Should our judgement of art — paintings, poetry, literature, films — take into account the moral and political merit of the artist and his or her message? Or should we judge art through something other than our moral and political filters?
That’s the interesting debate Dhanuka Bandara takes up in the Sri Lankan Nation:
Since today the academia has become the location for competing ideologies, critical interest in analyzing the politics in a text has become the more fashionable practice. In their assiduous efforts to remain politically ‘progressive’ and ‘radical’ dons and students alike disregard the technical and stylistic aspect of a given text at the expense of the politics that it endorses or rejects. It is easy to label a text as ‘orientalist’, ‘elitist’ or ‘sexist’. However, this is not necessarily a comment on the aesthetic value of that text. …
In my opinion, a text could be orientalist, classist or even fascist, but still remain qualitatively estimable. For instance, T.S. Eliot’s unease with women and Jews is quite well known, but this does not mean that Eliot is a bad poet. W.B. Yeats is a classist and some might even say fascist but still this does not undo the artistic merit of his poetry. On the other hand, ‘progressive politics’ in a text does not necessarily bear upon its artistic merit. It is for this reason that some of the texts (albeit not all) that have got into university syllabi, on account of being postcolonial and/or feminist are embarrassing to read.