Art and suffering

October 22, 2009

What A.C. Grayling says about the concept of "art" ("Art: whether you love it or hate it, the purpose is to elicit a response", 8 October) cannot be an adequate definition of this concept unless he is prepared to argue that torture is art, too (an idea that seems to be suggested in the illustration accompanying Grayling's article, which shows a naked man whose nipples are attached to electrodes that are linked to a painting).

Reread Grayling's article with the idea of someone torturing a person in mind and see if there are any statements that Grayling makes ("the work is its own justification") that could not be applied equally well to torture. So long as the torturer does not have any particular purpose in mind, but even if s/he does, it seems, then this might still be "art".

If this is so, Grayling must (a) argue that torture might well be "art" (and, given his definition of the concept, I would not put this beyond him), (b) say how his statements about art cannot or should not be applied to torture, or (c) accept that his concept of the nature of art is badly deficient in some way.

In short, rather than saying what "art" is (probably an impossible question to answer anyway), he should try to say what is not art.

Kenneth Smith, Bucks New University.

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