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  • How do you use art to expand human connection, empathy, and possibility? How can art expand the moral imagination?

    I came across this question after a two evenings watching two different films. The first "The Scent of Green Papaya", the second "L'eclisse". Different films but sharing much of the same qualities, an examination through symbolism of the nature of love, real or imagined. Slow, deliberate, and contrived. The earlier film, "L'eclisse", one of Michelangelo Antonioni's most admired films, seemed to be the template and precursor of "Green Papaya". Director Tran Anh Hung appeared, as evidenced by his use of camera and scene, to be channeling Antonioni through a Vietnamese Buddhist screen, and the film was all the more effective for it. Not exactly surprising, since any graduate of a class in film would have been made aware of Antonioni's particular vision, one that remains deeply influential.

    So, as I said, I came across this question after watching these two films. I looked at the question. I imagined the question. I imagined it as a line of type on an examination paper or a homework assignment. A chore. A task to be completed, whether interested or not. I imagined the question being presented to Antonioni and to Tran Anh Hung and imagined their response. I saw Antonioni's as a vision of a water barrel slowly leaking into a drain, I saw Tan Anh Hung's as a milky drop of papaya sap pooling on a leaf.

    I saw it as an existential statement. Simply there. Neither answerable nor unanswerable.

    That's the problem with questions about art. They exist outside a box, whereas the answer lies within a box. To experience art one needs to enter the box, but in doing so, you close yourself off from that external view. The question becomes immaterial. Irrelevant. Although reams and reams of words of art criticism have been written, not one line substitutes for the art itself.

    Perhaps that is the answer. Or the question. Art is not used - it uses you. An artist does not expand human connection, empathy and possibility or expand the moral imagination (whatever that may be). He or she creates. Outside the box. Once created, art enters the box. What lies within only you can divine. All that remains is for you to open it up and move inside.
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