Death, Sex, Meaning, and Art

As a whole, it seems that Americans increasingly equate artistic experience with adrenaline, whether from shock or gore or salaciousness or any other phenomena that provide a “rush.”  The screens must get bigger, pictures must astound with ever-higher definition, and the floor itself must rumble.  In books gore and sexuality must alternate graphically.  Otherwise the story won’t sell.  None of this is new, of course, only it’s accelerated and intensified, according to our collective demands.

Let us have our stories and escapes, but we needn’t cheapen the experience so gratuitously.  If the protagonists and antagonists capture our hearts or provoke our venom, if the story carries us, authors don’t need to kill so many characters or describe every detail of every romp in the hay.  Death and sex do occur and thus do belong, but narratives that repeatedly expound and expand those experiences ad nauseum reveal either a lack of depth and poignancy or shameless pandering.

Call me a naive idealist, but I subscribe to the tradition that art should ameliorate, not merely entertain.  Accuse me of arrogance, but somebody needs to catalyze reflection and dialogue.  While meeting an obligation to stir emotion and wonder, artists and writers can and should simultaneously imbue a search for significance.  Humans laugh, cry, love, rage, fornicate, and die, but they also want their lives to matter, to see their steps on this planet within the context of a larger, meaningful story.



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