Thought for the Day – Rhidian Brook

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BBC Radio 4’s Thought for the Day earlier this week was provided by Rhidian Boook. It provided some interesting thoughts on Art and the justification for gratuitousness in Art.

You can listen to the clip from this week’s broadcast above, the transcript of this thought is as follows:

In the last week there has been a fair amount of outrage generated by the depiction of sexual violence in two forms of entertainment. Firstly at the Royal Opera’s production of Rossini’s Gillaume Tell in which a woman is molested, stripped and gang-raped by soldiers; and then in the video for Rihanna’s song BBHMM in which a woman is abducted, tortured and then killed by a gang of women.

Between them these works have drawn accusations of misogyny, racism, sexism, sadism and gratuitousness – and both have been defended against these accusations. Largely on the grounds of artistic expression or female empowerment. There’s a fine line between being artistically justified and utterly gratuitous but that line seems to fall in different places for different people. One person’s boundary crossed is another person’s artistic expression made.

I haven’t seen this Rossini opera but I have watched the Rihanna video and although I found it unpleasant and glibly provocative there’s a part of me that agrees with the writer John Updike who said (provocatively) that there should always be something gratuitous about art – especially when there is something gratuitous about the universe. If art is to imitate life sometimes it’s going to be unpleasant and offensive.

I’d also feel slightly hypocritical complaining about it when I so willingly embrace a culture of violence. This month alone I have watched several murders (in True Detective), decapitations and rape (in Game of Thrones), mutilation (in Mad Max), sex with machines (in Humans) all done in the name of entertainment – and perhaps even art. Years ago, working as a writer on Silent Witness, it was my job to think of ways to despatch victims, my justification being that it was a crime show: there must be bodies. There will be blood. Of course, to show something is not necessarily to endorse it and to watch something isn’t to condone it, but maybe artists should be asking the same questions as their viewers: ‘Is this necessary?’ ‘Is this true?’ ‘Does it have integrity?’

Ever since Cain smashed Abel’s head in with a rock violence has run like a bloody seam through the substance of our stories. But in the best of them the violence is usually showing us something about the human condition. Yes, we live in a world where there are brutal aggressors and powerless victims but there is also dignity, kindness and love in the midst of the ugliness.

Scripture encourages us to think about whatever is true, excellent and praiseworthy, and I’ve always assumed this to include what we watch, read and listen to. It’s asking us to discern between the meaningful and the meretricious in art as well as in life. And it’s not an instruction to look away but a call to engage so that we can better see what really is true, excellent and praiseworthy.

via the BBC.

Rhidian Brook Thought for the Day