Maybe It Doesn’t Mean Anything, Richardson!

I don’t believe art’s focus is on improving society. I believe it enhances our awareness of the world and gives us different perspectives, but I don’t think it’s goal should be to improve society. Just because it enhances our awareness doesn’t always mean that it is good for society; either way so, it’s still art.

My ideas directly oppose Richardson’s musings on the purpose of art. He writes, “If in a Picture the Story be well chosen, and finely Told (at least) if not Improv’d, if it fill the Mind with Noble, and Instructive Ideas, I will not scruple to say ‘tis an excellent picture” (Discourse I 13). Richardson’s view to moralizes and politicizes art. He thinks art must further mankind’s knowledge and morals. I don’t think art should have to fill the mind with noble ideas. Why must it instruct and improve? Why can’t it simply exist while we admire its existence?

I will first review the song “Subdivisions,” by Rush. It addresses issues of social alienation. It exposes subdivisions within society. The word “subdivisions” can also be suggested to have a sexual connotation dealing with cultural acceptance through sex. Heavy emphasis is placed on synth in the solos and rhythm. The focus on the synth implies a mechanical and callous attitude taking over society. Our move toward electronic machines to musically express ourselves runs parallel to our rigid social structures. I enjoy this work because of the alienating nature of the instruments. It defines our modern era; it presents a concentrated form of the technological/social movement in the 1980s and beyond.

I think my interpretation reinforces the definition of art as enhancing awareness, but I cannot say that the song is trying to improve society. “Subdivisions” may critique social structures, but it also may be praising them. Thus, it boils down to personal interpretation. Given the song’s ambiguous allegiances, Richardson would struggle to fit it into his model of instruction and improvement

The other piece I’ll review is the £10 Banksy Note. This is a £10 note slightly modified by the artist Banksy. The Queen is replaced by Princess Diana, and the words “Bank of England” changed to “Banksy of England.” I think this piece can enhance our awareness of the convergence of art and commercialism. It shows how society has corporatized art.

This work bothered me because of its shameless copying of artists like Duchamp and Warhol. There was likely little time invested in it, and I tend to view Banksy as an attention hog, rather than a good artist.

I think Richardson would disagree with my unenthusiastic response. While he would blast Banksy for lack of creativity, he would love the instruction the work supposedly gives. He would be upset about this convergence of art and commercialism, but he would believe the copying of other artists to be necessary. He would see it as an important element in expressing the dry culture of the art/commercialism hybrid. If Banksy’s note sends a warning to everyone, Richardson might believe the convergence could be reversed.

Richardson, Two Discourses


One thought on “Maybe It Doesn’t Mean Anything, Richardson!

  1. Adam,

    Love it! Great job comparing Richardson’s view of artistic purpose to your own. I really liked how you talked about art’s ability to create an awareness of how we interpret the world. Here’s my question: if art offers different viewpoints or enhances our awareness, couldn’t that be instructive in itself? Isn’t having multiple viewpoints already an “improvement” over simply having just one (even if the new viewpoint isn’t necessarily “valid”)? Anyway, just food for thought…

    GREAT job comparing your own critiques to how Richardson may have viewed them (and your responses).

    Grade: S

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