Cinema is often called the 7th art. So what are the other six fine arts? These classifications come from the German philosopher Hegel’s aesthetics, in which he roughly categorizes the main fine arts as:
And cinema has been called the 7th, though really it’s like a synthesis of many of them. But what interested me as I dove into a little Hegel, was his placement of art’s highest end as serving religion. For Hegel, humanity cannot live by philosophical concepts alone, but also needs religion which allows the imagination to grasp faith in truth. Hegel even goes so far as to claim that through religion “a nation defines what it considers to be true” (Lectures on the Philosophy of World History, 105, from plato.stanford.edu). Thus, Hegel seems to suggest that art’s true end is to present to a nation the truths of its religion.
Well, this is all pretty abstract. But it reminds me of Paul Schrader‘s excellent article “Cannon Fodder” (PDF here) from 2006 in Film Comment magazine. My brother, Jacob, sent me this article months ago, and I jotted down some notes but never fully formulated my response. In this essay, Schrader tries to define an elitist canon of the top, most influential films. He sees the demise of the idea of a canon as tied to the demise of high culture, which has disappeared with commonly accepted moral standards, which passed away with a culture that used to be unified by religion.
While I don’t think Schrader is mourning the fact that we don’t all share the same religious values, he is definitely mourning the separation of art from its highest calling, namely, to help us understand objective truths about the nature of reality and how life ought to be lived. It is certainly interesting that “canon” is originally a religious term, particularly, a Catholic term. The hierarchy of Aquinas’ Great Chain of Being… the ordering of goods in ascending levels of importance, with God at the top, is very Catholic and very Western. Schrader points out that we have to evaluate art by standards of better and worse. If art can be objectively better or worse, or if it can convey truth with greater or lesser effectiveness, then that means there are objective standards of good and bad. And that scares some people a lot.
Yeah, dude, it’s all the same argument between absolute values and relative values. And if absolute values of good and bad exist, is it the purpose of art to reveal those values? And if so, what is the best way? Long live the debate. I’m of the opinion that yes, this is art’s role, but that the areas of gray exist, and indeed, are most interesting, because our deepest intentions, desires and needs are often hidden and the most difficult to understand.
Schrader pointedly criticizes the direction Hollywood has taken.
“The only criterion is “fun.” Is it fun? Is it cool? Is it hip?… assemblage is the art form of the 20th century.”
“Sensation replaces sentiment. “
I think Schrader and McKee are in accord here.
So, question: Is cinema really a completely new art form from Drama (which Hegel groups with Poetry)? Or just a sort of “multimedia” mixture of the fine arts: dance, music, poetry, painting? A penny for your thoughts.
I hope I can find time to do my next post on the Hindu aesthetics of rasa regarding drama and film.