The Poetry Question

Discovering the Relevance of Words

“The Role of Art,” or “Do I Need More Therapy?”



I want so badly to agree with the statement that “Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.” It seems like such a bold proclamation, and frankly, one that should be more than justifiable; however, I don’t know if that truly sums up the role of Art. Can’t Art simply comfort? Can’t Art make a person question, or discuss, or disgusted? Can’t Art make people notice their surroundings, their generation, their voice, their role in history? It doesn’t all have to be comfortable or disturbing. Right?

On the other hand, the word “disturb” can be taken in several different ways. It is the job of an artist to bring something to the attention of the viewer, or listener. It is the job of the artist make a person feel. So, maybe “disturbing the comfortable” is doing just that. Maybe the comfortable isn’t used to feeling or having to think about certain things outside their comfort-zone. If that’s the case, than this quote is incredibly accurate.

Does “comforting the disturbed” mean that a disturbed mind will be eased by something that others may find unsettling? Since Poetry is counted as art, does that mean that if I’m comforted by Browning’s “Porphyria’s Lover,” that I’m a bad person, or a disturbed person? If I find that poem to be one of the most honest love poems ever written, does that mean that I need more therapy than I already receive? I don’t feel like I want to murder anyone, let alone the woman who I love, but in that poem, his love is so unrequited, and so maligned that he feels it’s the only way they’ll ever be together. Now, Browning’s poem never alludes whether or not the strangulation of Porphyria is real, or simply in the lover’s head, but either way, when he wraps her hair around her throat, it’s dark, but immensely beautiful at the same time.

I love Jackson Pollock paintings, but they are violent in nature. The paint is splattered, and thrown, and while they may not seem like “art” to some, to me, much like the Browning poem, I find them beautiful. Is that wrong?

I love the smooth sounds of the Miles Davis Quintet era, but I also love the scattered, and dangerous Bitches Brew album. Is it comforting or disturbing? Right or wrong? Is there an answer to that question?

I agree that art is meant to force, or focus, or provide emotion for people, but I do not think you only get to options. I do not believe that art is there to provide comfort or disturbance. Art is there to promote thought, and whatever those thoughts are, as long as when a person thinks something, the artist has done their job.

About Christopher Margolin

Chris Margolin spent more than a decade in Education as a high school English teacher, and is now an Instructional Coach for the Longview School District. He is also the founder of The Poetry Question, an online journal which focuses on reviews of small press poetry publications, and runs a regular series called "The Power of Poetry," where notable poets share their personal stories of how poetry has affected their lives. Margolin resides in Vancouver, Washington with his wife, and daughter.

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