Art meets Greed

October 21, 2014 by Rabbi Laibl Wolf
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So what is art anyway?…asks Rabbi Laibl Wolf.

Rabbi Laibl Wolf

Rabbi Laibl Wolf

In the eyes of the NY Metropolitan Opera Company the carefully choreographed Arab terrorist murder of an elderly Jew, acted out to the original score of Aria of the Falling Body, is ‘art’. I guess the art-world believes that anything taking place on stage or canvas, by definition, is art. I strongly disagree, and, furthermore, the NY Met is getting away with murder!

Today, ‘art’ finds itself along the spectrum ranging from realism-anchored photography at one end, through to the most perverse abstract rendition of human depravity at the other; from the classical complexity of a Bach through to the isolated gong of a Buddhist bell – the full range of objectivity through to highly individualized subjectivity. Where ‘art’ begins and ends totally defies definition.

Is art an expression of skill? Yet leading contemporary art galleries display infant-scribbles in the name of art – and with a healthy price tag to match. Is art an expression of originality? In that sense, everyone’s pen on paper, or brush on canvas, or photo in album, is a work of art. Is art an expression of beauty? That surely lies with the beholder. It seems that ugliness does not deprive it of its Google search-tag for ‘art’.

So what is art? I think the word has outworn its validity. It means practically everything and nothing. I prefer to define it by an attribute accorded to the purpose of life itself: does it make the world a better place and nurture individual growth? If it doesn’t tick this box, it is not art, no matter how ‘accomplished’ the artist or technically proficient the work.

For example, consider people’s perception of improved technologies as indices of progress? If used to butcher and maim, technology cannot possibly be synonymous with progress. Or consider the virtue of parenting. Should parental behaviour harm the child or stunt its physical, emotional and spiritual growth, it could hardly be called ‘parenting’. Or consider ‘making a living’. If the proceeds are utilised for criminal extortion destroying the fabric of society, ’making a ‘living’ is really about ‘undoing’ life, not ‘making’ it.

Art is no different. When ‘art’ is the expression of egotistic, self-absorbed, narcissism, it is very unlikely to bring any good into the world, and quite likely the opposite. If, however, the work of art, be it painting, music, sculpture, photography, or any handicraft, raises the value of life, society, and person, and inspires others to do the same, then it can be rightly called ‘art’. Otherwise art becomes reduced to a relativistic exercise of the literati, devoid of intrinsic meaning – a mere plaything of ‘literary dilettantes’.

‘The Death of Klinghoffer’ is the Met’s glorification of cold-blooded murder. Propping up a distorted story line with an original score and ingenious stage props, does not transform an ‘ugly duckling’ into a ‘graceful swan’. For me, the litmus test distinguishing cynical scribble from true art is whether it promotes or inspires the growth of society and person. If it cheapens life, legitimises killing, glorifies terrorism, and distorts the meaning of our existence, its technical proficiency will never elevate it to the status of a ‘work of art’, nor should it ever be deserving of public display.

The Met is pulling a ‘swiftie’ on the public – it has revealed its current directorship as a grubby, money-hungry, ‘greed is good’-tainted Board, whose production of ‘Klinghoffer’ is driven by opportunism, poor taste and sensationalism. Thematically centred on the murder of a Jew, and staged in the current climate of anti-Israel bias, if not outright antisemitism, the Met has revealed its true colors: a quest for a few cheap dollars at the expense of human decency and world progress. The screeching pious protestations by its Director of ‘artistic license’ i.e. legal right makes it right, is pragmatic gutter-defence – and morally indefensible. It makes for a very poor work of ‘art’.

And now – the Met’s chorus: don’t stifle ‘art’. (To another original Aria ‘Mein Kampf.’ Oh, did I let the cat out of the bag? The Met is still working on that one for next season.)

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