Jul 28, 2022

art is for seeing evil

Agnes Callard:

In normal life, vision is burdened by positivity: we tend to be aiming, achieving, improving, appreciating and enjoying. There’s almost always something we’re up to, and that purpose skews our process of observation. When the things around us make no practical contribution—affording no use or joy—they do not readily summon our attention; when harms refuse to take the friendly shape of surmountable obstacles, we endeavor to ignore them; when evils offer up no positive face, no compensatory pleasures, we command ourselves to turn away from them. We swim in an invisible sea composed of all that is irrelevant, unhelpful or downright wicked.

Art suspends our practical projects, releasing the prohibition against attending to the bad. Our ravenous consumption of badness in art reveals just how much we standardly deprive ourselves of it. We commonly praise some piece of art for its “realism”; we could fault life for its lack thereof.