Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The knowlegde of Art

In the 1980's, I was very active in a struggle against video violence. There was then no regulation in Norway regarding what one could rent or sell of movies with violence. It was illegal to sell certain kinds of pornography, but there was little or no follow-up of the law. In 1981, I was hired by the municipality of Sandefjord to examine what was in the video shelves in every video store ibn the municipality. My work resulted in a report of 100 pages to the municipality. The result was that 10 of 15 stores were reported to the police for illegal sale of video. Child Welfare Services were worried about how violence and porn movies affected children and young people and demanded stricter limits on video and demanded municipal licensing for those who wanted to rent or sell videofilms. I carried out many such studies in different municipalities in the years after that, including the City of Oslo. For a year I bicycled around in the streets of Oslo to find both registered and unregistered stores for videofilms. This resulted in a report concerning a municipal licensing of videostores in Oslo. Parents around the country were concerned about what their children were watching and I was engaged by around 500 schools in the country in the 80's to teach the parents about videoviolence in PTA- meetings. How did learn about what I had to tell?
I had contact with many youth groups in this decade, Youths who looked at violent films and considered them as art. They saw beautiful pictures and appreciated them, while I saw violence that scared me. In the years I was struggling against video violence, I met many young people who taught me a lot. What I know about film, I mostly learned from them. This was often youth who were sitting in small groups, watching movies, often for hours at a stretch, every day over several months. They often took contact with me after reading about me in a newspaper and asked if I would visit them. Something I often did. I could say I did not understand how they could look at this violence, and they said they looked at the film differently. You have to learn the film's language, said a 15 year old to me one time in the early 80's. The movies is not just about violence, they are about camera angles, lenses, lighting, setting, actors, etc.. Suddenly it dawned on me that these young people looked at the films in a different way than me because they had a knowledge I did not have had. I asked if they could teach me the film's language, and they did so more than willingly. They told me how the camera lens and camera angles could tell a story of perspective. Sometimes the camera could give the viewer the impression of being present in the film. I could then tell them about Charles Cooley theories about The Looking Glass Self. They listened anxiously to what I said and they thought Charles was an all-right guy who had understood something important and they wanted to become better acquainted with him. I had contact with some of these youths for several years. They were great and very inclusive. But I also met with groups of youths who do not understand the film's language and I thought they were negatively affected by what they saw. They were silent, apathetic, indifferent, and some were aggressive. These meetings made me scared of what video violence was doing to many of our children and young people. I have in later years been a strong supporter of having film and media as compulsory subject at school.

There are many forms of art. Fine art, film, architecture, writing, music, art, speech and persuasion, art, etc.. It's the same with all art forms. One must learn the arts language in order to understand its knowledge. Music is not a lot of dots in a piece of paper. A person who that can read a note ark can see a colorful symphony, where the seasons are changing, as in Seasons of Anonio Vivaldi. A painting is not a lot of colors placed more or less randomly on a canvas. Art can be a composition that can make you fall on our knees and cry, as it is to stand in front of Michelangelo's murals in the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican.

Knowledge requires a language. A living person without language does not exist in my view. I've certainly never met such a person. You come to the difficult limits of what a living human being is when doctors say that the person in front of you is in a coma and no longer has any brain activity. But all the living people I have met, have had a language, whether it be a newborn infant who has life before him/her, or an old person in a sleepy state of being -waiting for death. It's all about finding the other person's language and learning it. When that happens, then a something marvelous aqures. One finds another person. One is then able to understand the other person. One can see the other's perspective. This is a absolute in art of helping. To help another human being can for some people to satisfy his/her physical, mental and emotional needs. However, the art of helping is all about listening to the other person, seeing the other person, making the other person visible and finally understand the other's language. It is only when one has found the other persom and learned his / her language that help can begin. When that happens, you no longer sees a homeless drunkard, a drug addict, a victim, a speechless autistic, a dement-old person. No, you then see a human being who is larger than yourself and meeting such a person can make you fall on your knees and cry. Soren Kirekegaard wrote very beautiful and insightful about this in the Secret Art of Helping:

"If one is truly to succeed in leading a person to a specific place, one must first and foremost take care to find him where he is and begin there. 

This is the secret in the entire art of helping. Anyone who cannot do this is himself under a delusion if he thinks he is able to help someone else. In order truly to help someone else, I must understand more than he - but certainly first and foremost understand what he understands. If I do not do that, then my greatest understanding does not help him at all. If I nevertheless want to assert my greater understanding, then it is because I am vain or proud, then basically instead of benefiting him I really want to be admired by him. But all true helping begins with a humbling. The helper must first humble himself under the person he wants to help and thereby understand that to help is not to dominate but to serve, that to help is not to be the most dominating but the most patient, that to help is a willingness for the time being to put up with being in the wrong and not understand what the other understands."

 Soren Kierkegaard, [1855] 1962. Synspunktet for min Forfatter-Virksomhed. Copenhagen, Gyldendal, p.96-07. (My translation from Danish to English)

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