Does Art Have to be About Something?

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November 7, 2012 by Devin

I was in a discussion with my friend recently about the nature of art (especially as it applies to video games) and I came to the conclusion that art has to have purpose in it. Art is not just anything that affects emotions (otherwise drugs would be artistic), but art is a piece that affects emotions for a specific reason. I should not just feel sad about the characters in a movie, for instance, but that sadness I feel should make me reflect upon my own life in some way.

In Owen Barfield’s book, Poetic Diction, he talks about poetry creating a felt change of consciousness. That is, poetry causes us to experience life or see an experience through someone else’s eyes or lens, and that is the fundamental value of art. I am simplifying his book greatly, but it stands to reason that this felt change of consciousness should allow us to reflect upon our own lives in some meaningful way.

Which is why I am a bit ambivalent about the film, Moneyball. I watched it last night due in part to the reviews and buzz I heard about it, and I did enjoy it quite a bit. The script is a bit slow, but Jonah Hill and Brad Pitt have an odd but enjoyable chemistry. However, the fundamental point of the film really is that players, human beings, can be reduced down to stats and numbers without the need for personal contact or human intuition.

Yet the film seems to make this point by accident, by chance, as if it wants to be a heartwarming film about human interaction and believing in the underdog. The film does have shades of these themes, but the film is not cohesive enough to have a point.

So my question is, is this film art? I’m not sure. It just seems to me that this film, though it has a great script and incredibly solid acting, seems to miss the point of “art” in general and that its enjoyment is oddly skin deep (despite being an intelligent film).

I really am curious about this. Is Moneyball’s value limited like I said, or am I completely wrong about the movie? Do you have any thoughts on what films should be to be art, or are all films art by their very nature?

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