News For And About The Philosophy Profession is how www.dailynous.com, one of my favourite sites, is described. Along with a handful of philosophers or academics, I was asked to contribute my thoughts on the issue of the art of morally troubling artists (those who don't tip well, whip it out, etc.).
All of the six little essays can be found here. What I wrote I've posted below.
More or less, I find most of today’s conversation about art and morality to be pretty banal. I find it very hard to see how anyone actually concerned with art has any interest in the matter other than to put it to rest. For too long it has been too much of a distraction, and good artists should have better things to be doing (i.e. addressing) with their time.
The question What are the (permissible) limits of artistic transgression? can be answered only through art, or, perhaps more properly, the particular piece of allegedly “transgressing” artwork being questioned.
Any attempt to legitimate an artwork (in any way) by reference to a stand-alone code or ethics or standard outside of or other than the artwork itself is something to consider only for those who don’t care about art ultimately. But, then, the question obviously comes: why does their opinion matter?
In a 22-year-old interview with BOMB Magazine, art critic and old man Dave Hickey said, “simply put, the art and criticism that interest me seek to reconstitute what we think of as ‘good.’ Maybe you don’t have to be ‘bad’ to make good art, but I suspect that there is no need for art in an environment where we all agree on what’s ‘good’ and on what constitutes ‘good’ behavior.”
None of this is to say, of course, that criminal courts shouldn’t deal with criminal matters, or, similarly, that other kinds of courts shouldn’t deal with other kinds of non-criminal but similarly expressly legal matters. But, whether it’s for me to tell a guy who cheats on his taxes that he shouldn’t go out and finish his painting anymore, I think, is really beyond my scope. (And, sometimes, too, of course, “courts of ‘public opinion'” can be without rules of procedure, triers of fact, sentencing guidelines, and other such relics of Common, Civil and all other such Law traditions. Full disclosure, though, I am personally not a fan of Facebook.)
The good comic—good ethically and good aesthetically—is the one who calls into question, confuses and provokes the serious. For the comic, the serious is the mark of human folly, vanity, error, and excess. Accordingly, for the comic who cares for the comedic, it is an absolute horror—it is the absolute, the existential horror—that any comedic possibility could be unconditionally proscribed.
Finally, in general it doesn’t matter at all to me to know who or what is behind any work that I like (e.g. Kafka and Giacometti could have been better to their women; Heidegger, to the Jews). In the case of Louis C.K., though, I think back to Joseph Kosuth’s line from the essay “Art After Philosophy“: “a work of art is a kind of proposition within the context of art as a comment on art.”
In other words, Louis C.K. can tell a joke again, but it just better be a damn fine joke.