03 May, 2012

Munch's Scream Speaks Loudly

Follows is a re-posting of my essay on The Artist's Ideas, illustrated by The Scream, Edward Munch.

Edvard Munch
The Scream, 1893
o/c, tempera & pastel

A work of art can't be questioned or dismissed. Saul Bellow.

The obscure word ethos has a different meaning today than it did seventy years ago, and it has traveled a malleable path since the days of Aristotle. Whereas, today, it is a corporate creed, it formerly held a deeper meaning. Pre-war artists owned the word - it was the artist's ethos. My 1936 Webster's dictionary has the following:

Webster: From the Greek, ethos, ἔθος, character. The moral, ideal or universal element in a work of art as distinguished from that which is emotional in its appeal or subjective.

How do the artist's ideas exhibit themselves in an artwork? Is it important for an artist to express an ethos through the making of art?

We have been considering 
The Artist's Ideas, with these previous posts:
Have Ideas
Quotes - The Artist's Ideas
The Inner Meaning
The Artist's Ideas
Paint Better Now

The Artist's Ethos.

The Greeks saw ethos as the first proof of debate, and it had to do with trusting the moral competence of the 
rhetorician.Fast-forward to our concerns and the artist's ethos. Let's unpack the definitions of moral, ideal and universal elements.

The Moral Function of Art.
Webster describes a moral element in a given artwork, which is, by definition, an illumination of right or wrong. As concerns the formal parts of art, there is no right or wrong. "There is no must in art because art is free," Wassily Kandinsky. So, we are left with artworks that reveal a moral quality intended by the artist, such as in the case of Sacred Art. See below some artworks that reveal strong moral qualities in a broader context. See The Sistine Chapel for Sacred Art.

John Dewey said that 
“Art is more moral than moralities.” Artist and blogger Katherine A. Cartwright is reading Dewey's important 1934 book, Art as Experience, and hosting a community discussion on The Moral Function of Art. See herehere and here, and remember to read the comment fields.

Here is the "see below." For my part of the discussion at Katherine's blog, I have been illustrating the moral function of art by identifying individual artworks that I see as strong moral forces in the canon of Western art. Blogger/artist Linda W. Roth had the idea first, and she chose Edward Munch's The Scream for its moral content. I think she's right on with that, and I thought of Andrew Wyeth's Groundhog Day, and Willem deKooning's Woman 1. These artworks are linked below.

The following opens a window into Dewey's thinking: Art is morally powerful because it is indifferent to moral praise and blame (loosely quoted). Do you agree?

Ideals - The Artist's Ideas.

otice that the Websters definition relates to a work of art, and not the group known as artists. My understanding of "the ideal" is that an artwork must, to be true to the artist's ethos, reflect his ideas. See these quotes on The Artist's Ideas.

Universal Elements.

Art is a universal mode of language. John Dewey. Philosophers will tell you that language is wanting in descriptive power - it falls short of expressing what man is able to think. Art is a huge bridge in "speaking" to mankind aught words.

Edvard MunchThe Scream.
Andrew Wyeth, Groundhog Day.
Willem de Kooning, Woman 1.

Ethos at Wikipedia.
John Dewey, Art As Experience.

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Abstract Expressionism, Art Criticism, Artists, Colorist Art, Drawing, History, Impressionism, Modern Art, Painting, Pastel, Post Impressionism