Brave New World 5: Is suffering needed for good art?


"You can't make tragedies without social instability." "Stability isn't nearly so spectacular as instability. And being contented has none of the glamour of a good fight against misfortune, none of the picturesqueness of a struggle with temptation, or a fatal overthrow by passion or doubt. Happiness is never grand."

Do artists need to have personally suffered in order to produce good art? Does the audience of art need to have suffered to appreciate good art? Is it enough for suffering to take place (and be known) somewhere in society for good art? And if suffering is required, how much suffering should we tolerate as the price to pay for the art? (And does the answer change when we consider the value of art from an perspective of individual aesthetic appreciation, or for what it does to enrich and guide a culture?)


  • 1
    I don't think art needs suffering as such, either for the artist or in the art itself. For example, are the novels of P. G. Wodehouse art? I think the answer has to be yes.

    Though I would argue art has to have emotion, compassion, and skill at crafting. Not necessarily just the grand emotions; embarrassment and confusion are emotions as well as love and grief.

    The society of Brave New World is designed not to have any uncomfortable emotions, however minor.

    As for suffering, everyone suffers. We all have relationships which break up, we all have loved ones we mourn.

    When talking of suffering, usually something worse than that is meant, and no, I don't think that's necessary for art, certainly not all art. I don't think there's any cost in art from hypothetically eliminating disease or natural disasters for example.

    Even when great suffering does produce art, I don't think the art justifies the suffering. For example, the World War One poets or Vietnam War movies don't justify the First World War or the Vietnam War.
  • 1

    Again, I largely agree with Paul. I think art is a form of catharsis for people who have undergone hard times, and without those hard times some art (like Picasso's Guernica) might not exist. But many emotions move art, and the Cistene Chapel didn't come from strife, but fervor. Da Vinci's work, I expect, didn't come from the heart at all. So I don't agree with the novel's conclusion that happiness and art are opposed.

  • 0
    I don't think I'm saying anything different from others, but I think a) emotional range is necessary for art of any kind (to avoid blandness or boredom) but b) art can and often is born out of emotional experience other than profound suffering.
  • 2

    My own opinion matches @RichardAbbott : range is needed, in both artist and perhaps audience. But even if suffering is needed, it too high a price to pay for art. A friend of mine has suffered a lot, and draws on that to make their art, as a way of dealing with things. It's good stuff, but I'd much rather do without the art and have them not suffered in the past.

  • 1

    I don't know, as my concepts of what art is are wrong.

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