21 November 2009

The Benthamite Utility Monster is Eating My Claims About Art: Help!

Last night I went to the ROH for the first time since moving back here, which was a thrill. I have missed it! It was only to go the Linbury Studio Theatre but any disappointment I might have felt at not getting in to see the main house was more than mitigated by the fact that I was there to see an old school friend of mine who had had some of his work commissioned for the ROH Firsts 09 season. The programme was a mixed bag but that's what happens with series like that.

Unbelievably, I have not even made it to the Tate Modern (easy enough walking distance from university) nor the National Gallery (ten minutes walk, if that far) since I got back here. No art, when that was one of the things I had most looked forward to having back. I have been just a little bit busy for some reason...but still.

I feel a lot better today than I have for a couple of weeks and I blame that entirely on my theatre excursion. I have for years realised that studying ballet was what got me through all the depression I had in high school, and that singing at church and working at the gallery have been a mainstay for me over the past few years. Nevertheless, I was genuinely surprised at how much better I felt last night. Art, it seems, is actively good for me. At the moment, I would say that it helps as much as klonopin does, though I wouldn't vouch for that being true if I were really in the depths.

I have generally been against the idea that art has or ought to have a utility value on the grounds that art works are not fungible in any meaningful way and utility values function off of a notion of exchangibility, which implies price and thus that art should be wholly a means rather than an end in itself*, so I worry about making a medicinal utility claim about it. However, I don't think that such a claim harms the dignity of an individual art work if I restrict the claim to art as a species of human activity and the end to which I make a claim that art is a means is an occultly achieved human end that art can achieve as a generality. I don't know; that's still a bit Benthamite. However, I do not make this claim universally: I imagine that there are others for whom the football or foreign language study or collecting match boxes achieves much the same end when art would not do the same. Actually, though, that is Benthamite ('pushpin is equal to poetry'). Oh dear. The dangers of making any claim to utility!

I need to have a think about this, but for now I shall just say hurrah for Art and hurrah for feeling better. At least for today, that has priority to philosophy.

*This is part of the good remains of the time I spent as a devout deontologist and secular humanist.

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