Art and violence

Could art influence people in such a way that they start shooting each other? Do we absorb the violence we see in movies and video games? Do we try to apply what we see in the real world?

Interesting.

It really is fascinating to see that some people believe that we can’t really discern what’s real from what’s not, that we don’t understand that the general convention of art is that it’s not true. As close as art and the real life are, we know art only mimics real life. And it does show for a reason. To transmit a message.

Now that’s the closest to being true anyone who feels that violence in art instigates to violence will ever be. Art, in all its forms, has the ability to transmit a message to an audience. The better the art, the more receptive the audience. But most people are just missing the point.

As long as you UNDERSTAND and ACKNOWLEDGE that any fictional universe (in a movie, a video game, a book, etc.) is inherently DIFFERENT than the real world, everything’s fine.

When you can’t tell the difference anymore, that’s when you’ve got a problem.

Simply put, some people have issues. And I strongly believe that those people see what they want to see. It’s one hell of a coping mechanism… they blame something (or someone) else for their own choices. Not that a guy who walks into a school and starts shooting people is completely capable of understanding what his own choices mean. Or the effect they have on others.

It’s also one of the oldest and most persistent of illusions. That we are not responsible for our actions.

But the truth is, people kill other people. Not ideas, ideals, subliminal messages, or video games. And, once again, I have to agree with Roger Ebert. News coverage depict our world. It’s not made belief what we’re seeing on our TV screens. Now, that’s real; it happened.

The convention no longer exists.

What we see on TV, what we are told is news, that’s what influences people. And it’s not a call to action, like most people would say about violent movies. I don’t think a news anchor ever said, “some guy killed 20 people in a shopping mall today. You should do the same.”

A good analogy might be that of martial arts training. You acquire a certain set of skills that make you quite dangerous. If you get good at it, you can easily kill a man. You could use those skills to do a lot of harm. More so, the way you acquire those skills is equally fascinating.

You learn to fight by fighting.

But it doesn’t make you into a violent person. On the contrary. The best fighters, the ones who could do some serious harm, are the ones who are incredibly calm in real life.

Because there’s this convention. The gym it’s not the same as real life. They’re two distinct worlds. You don’t use the skills you acquired in the ring, just because you understand that different principles apply. You understand social rules, laws, and you even have a general understanding of what human rights mean.

If you’re mentally stable, you understand those rules and conventions anyhow. No matter what type of movies you watch. No matter how many times you’ve read Lolita, you still not a pedophile. Maybe because you genuinely like people, or maybe because you’re afraid of what might happen if you do break those rules and start shooting people with a machine gun.

It doesn’t really matter, as long as you obey the rules.

Now, that’s another interesting thing. Because a lot of people think that if a video game, where you can kill people, doesn’t punish you for doing so, or even rewards you, then it means that that video game is telling people that it’s okay to kill, that they won’t get punished.

Try reading the last sentence out loud.

Basically, anyone who thinks that is saying that people are stupid animals. Or worse, actually. If we can’t understand the difference between the real world and a video game, we’re just wasting our time on this planet, actually. But most of us don’t mix the two up. We never do.

Most of us understand how this world works.

So we’re really talking about mentally unstable people. The ones who don’t understand the most basic of concepts.

Those who intend to do harm will do so regardless of what movies they watch, or video games they play. They do so because they want to.

In the end, we’re the only ones responsible for our actions. Whether we like to admit it or not, we always have a choice. We can see as much as we want, we can understand as little as we like. We’re always as free as we want. The only thing that keeps this world from breaking apart is that some think about the consequences. Or care about them. Or are just afraid of them.

***

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14 comments on “Art and violence

  1. walkerkaty0 says:

    Couldn’t agree more

  2. Very nice arguments. Agree with you for the most part.

    Here is my perspective. People are violent by nature. We are animals first, people second. And if you doubt this, pick up a history book or turn on the news. It’s murder and war every day.

    Those of us that put a high value on human life do so because, as people, as thinking and learning beings, we are able to understand and feel the hole that is created when someone is killed. But the fact remains that the idea of violence and combat gives us a thrill, just like sex and food do. Because that’s our animal nature.

    Video games and movies that involve shooting, fighting, killing are popular because of who we are. Art did not invent violence. Nature did.

  3. zohaibamjad1 says:

    At the end of the day, an explanation is the most necessary part in order to rectify the issues that are being created due to this. As a Scientist with a majors in Biology, I have got experimental results to back my claim up. First and foremost, two sub-types to our mind exist. One is the conscious, and the other is the sub-conscious. Although we are far from understanding the mind in general, certain concepts about the conscious mind are a bit more clear than the sub-conscious mind. What our eyes visualize on the television screen affects both the types. Have you ever wondered why are products marketed in a certain way. There are a lot of studies that utilize a large number of subjects to suggest that a certain design did better than the other design. A little bit of an extrapolation to these phenomenon will definitely explain what I am trying to say. Some people may be more receptive to some forms of art than to others, which may be dependent on how deep a person decides to dive into that form of Art. For you to pose a clear argument to the reader, you also need to consider the factors that may contribute to mental instability. Mental instability is a broad subject. Also, a relatively vague line boundaries mental instability and stability? Atleast, this is my opinion, and I may be wrong. Discussion is the way to go ahead. Debates exudate a winner or loser, but a discussion is more civil, channeling us towards what may be right and what may be wrong.

  4. This is an old conversation that first began between Plato and Aristotle. The point then was to consider the impact exposure to certain experiences within the arts can have on the human psyche. Today we speak of the impact of texts, films, music, etc. have especially on young minds. The point is not either that those affected were already not in sound mind or those who are of sound mind won’t and never will be affected. Rather it is to speak of the fragility of the human mind, it is to consider how one comes about an understanding of normalcy.

  5. xandrad says:

    An very interesting and thought-inspiring article. Thanks for that, Cristian. And of course you are correct. The conservative God-botherers are the ones who claim that pornography and violence in various types of media are to blame for similar ills in society. Strangely enough, I sincerely doubt that the great plethora of bloodshed found in the Old Testament has ever caused anyone to go out and kill all, sparing none, to take the virgins for themselves, or to smite the firstborn. And of course, if any cases were found where some disturbed person did indeed take inspiration from the Bible, no doubt the religious right would play the “No True Scotsman” fallacy of saying “They were not a true Christian.”

    Similarily, I doubt if anyone has been driven to violence by artworks. I cannot for the life of me think of one single instance of any man being driven to rape by viewing Rubens’ “Rape of the Sabine Women”.

    It has been proven that it is not media that leads to violence, and not war toys either. When I was a boy I was very militaristic and had a number of war toys. My parents were both sure I was destined for a career in the military. Then in my teens, I started reading about Gandhi and Martin Luther King, and I ended up a pacifist. At 19 I signed the Peace Pledge Union pledge to never participate in nor accommodate war in any way, and I never have.

    There are several factors lead to violence and it is not something which can be generalised about. Each and every violent individual has to be taken on their own merits, which can count on life experiences such as upbringing, experiences, background and peer pressure. There is one thing for sure however – violence begets violence. Someone who has only ever known violence will see violence as an answer to problem and thereby perpetuate the cycle.

    And then there is imbalance of mind, which is more often than not the cause of the more infamous atrocities – and I have personal experience of this. One day in 1996 a man walked into a primary school in Dunblane, Scotland, with several guns, including an automatic weapon, and open fired on a classroom, killing 16 little children and their teacher, before turning a gun on himself. To this day nobody knows his real motives, but he had recently been banned from helping with a scouts group due to suspicion of inappropriate conduct towards the children. Ten years prior to that, I had the misfortune to be in the same workplace as the killer, Thomas Hamilton. He was an odious excuse of a human being, someone myself and others tended to avoid and widely regarded as a creep. Hamilton would make “jokes” and comments about paedophilia, which he claimed to do for shock effect, but which distanced many people from him, and earned him more than one disciplinary measure. Certainly, I realised he was clearly mentally unhinged and I would not have entrusted him whithin a mile of children, or armed with a peashooter. Yet somehow, he was allowed to help out at a scout group, and was given licences for not one, but several guns, including automatic weapons, and was even a member of a gun club.

    Society did not lead to Thomas Hamilton killing little children, and neither did art, or any other media. He did that through his own mental instability, and “good Christian people” (the Chief Constable who signed Hamilton’s gun licences is a committed Christian) not recognising how dangerous he was, and enabling him.

  6. sandydunne says:

    Your post is thought-provoking and logically argued – thank you. However, I think your view assumes a grown-up world. Perhaps children are less clearly able to distinguish between the worlds of reality and make-believe, – and the different rules that apply in each. They look to their families for guidance, and if their family is not there for them, they are guided by what they see in the media or possibly video games. Schools fill a big gap, – part of what we do is teach right from wrong and help children develop a sense of responsibility. Also curiosity and compassion. Contemporary art, like all art, needs to be evaluated in context, with a view to the time and place it was made. Often the message is not immediately clear and needs explaining. When do children become adults? At what stage of development (particularly if the child is neglected and left to draw his or her own conclusions from whichever part of wider society they are exposed to) does desensitisation to violence cease to have an effect?

  7. picturespaintingsandotherscribblings says:

    To be human, is to be impressionable. That leads us back to an age old exercise. To know what is right & wrong.

  8. Humans killed for anything they want to own or earn – even arts. That is why there are certain thiefs that came for expensive arts, steal them but does not selling ’em. But to own them in their own Secret Chamber. Some stealing arts because they believe in some magical power. People kill for anything that they truly desire. Human can be such a greedy creature and brutally violent.

    And no, it is not the ARTS fault if anyone inspire to do violence. We are programmed to survive and our instincts to be on top of the food chain made it possible for any kind of violent acts. It is all in the mind.

    And we all know it that even before video games ever exists, violence has been ruling the earth since millenia.

  9. Stan Faryna says:

    Love and responsibility can be a burden and/or blessing to each of us. Neither Parent, Director, Author, Entrepreneur, Product Manager, Marketing Director, Artist, Teacher, nor Performer are exempt from love and responsibility. None.

    Uite asa – this philosophy of irresponsibility, indifference and lack of agency is at the heart of the problem.

  10. Your logic and assumptions imply that most people benefit from a stable, loving parents who offer kind examples of nonviolent and kind behavior. What of those children who witness violence then repeat it toward their mothers, not art but repeated violent example brings this about.

    More than half Americans questioned after watching television said that what they saw had to be true because they saw it!

    Humanity continues to be a visual species and learns by aping the behavior of others. Children benefit from interacting with pets, sensory materials like sand and water, people and by playing with each other. I agree that the upbringing of children should exclude violent visual materials such as most TV shows and movies, due to the nature of learning stages and the fact that the human brain continues to grow until a person has reached the age of 25.

    Thanks for taking on this ongoing hot topic!

  11. dils says:

    Violence has become apart of the human psyche. Over hundreds of years (they didn’t have violent video games 50 years ago..WWI and WWII still happened). Through this collective memory, violence is is cultivated and passed on.
    Art just becomes a scapegoat. Therein lies the danger when the truth is not addressed. Violence is in us all, but most can determine how to not give into it.

  12. miaclare says:

    I noticed you’re point of view focused on the mentally unstable response of the audience who consume art which depicts violence and then commit violent acts as a result. But, does a healthy, well-balanced mind create art that glorifies violence? And what type of audience are they hoping to appeal to? Does the influence of violent images on a condition-able human mind denote mental illness or does the detached enjoyment of violent art denote mental illness? I do wonder sometimes.

  13. mjh333 says:

    I agree! Video games can be a trigger, if played too young (this being the key issue), but the main problem is society and the inequality we live in. This drives people to the edge, then they see the video game or film and as the have already been pushed over the edge then it becomes a problem.

  14. As an Artist I have to say that Art can influence and inspire ideology. It is tricky though. I agree that you cannot blame art for murdering people. It does not work that way. But art can reflect and promote ideas that can lead to violent actions. Art have been use to generate opinion against certain people through history. For example newspapers in recent history have through political cartoons try to portray certain ethnic groups, such as Native Americans, Irish, blacks, and Jews, as subhuman and deserving mistreatment. Art can also glorify violence. Art can generate emotions of hate and fear. Hate and fear can lead to more of a violent behavior. Ideas are like seeds, as artists we plant them in our art. Sure the audience is accountable for what they sow, but we need to be aware that the audience may take our ideas further than what we intended or they might misinterpreted what we are saying and believe that we are promoting something that we are not.

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