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An ongoing discussion about art and literature concerns their purpose in human society. Within the Western tradition, modernists pronounced in no uncertain terms that artists had a moral responsibility to educate and inspire their audiences to help achieve a better society. This led to a number of movements dedicated to realism, social criticism, and resisting the encroachment of escapist entertainment. As tends to happen, counter-movements sprang up almost immediately, starting with “Art for Art’s Sake” in the late 1800s. According to many of these contrarians, what’s at stake is nothing less than artistic freedom and creativity, and socially responsible art inevitably devolves into propaganda.
In the 20th Century, the development of commercial mass media meant that all art forms could now reach mass audiences. This re-energized ongoing discussions between proponents of different approaches to art and literature. A key question remains about how much sway audiences and commercial interests should have over an artist’s creative production.
More recently, evolutionary biologists and psychologists have begun to consider how and why art and story-telling appear to be universal human activities—that is, human beings have told stories and created art for thousands of years, and they have done so everywhere. This has led several theorists to hypothesize that art and story-telling must have an adaptive function. You can read more about these ideas in Jonathan Gottschall and David Sloan Wilson’s book, The Literary Animal (2005), partly available via a link in Module 9.6. In addition, you can listen to Brian Boyd’s talk about the evolutionary benefits of storytelling and fiction in particular via a podcast available from the University of Adelaide (Module 9.7 provides the link).
For Essay 3, consider the following questions: What is the purpose of art and story-telling? What is the purpose behind the stories or poems of two writers from Session 4? How do you know? How do the two writers adapt to the communicative needs and expectations of their target audiences? How do they attempt to sway their audiences?
Consider whether the stories, poems, or autobiographical texts are written to educate reading publics about a given issue rather than to entertain them. How is that purpose reflected in the basic set-up, the examples, the tone, or any other feature of the text? You can also consider whether as early a writer as Shakespeare was subject to audience pressures. To complete this assignment, you must also integrate some ideas from one source in the Module 6 lectures and materials. You may use material from any additional source, including online class readings and readings in Literature for Critical Reflection, or from your independent research if you so choose.


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