The Law and Art

Art can be at odds with law at times. The law is the essence of order and structure, in the tradition of Apollo. Art, especially in the last 50 or 75 years, has something rebellious, chaotic, and even destructive or reconstructive about it—it smacks more of the orgiastic tradition of Dionysus. Yet the law sees a need to protect art. In the US it does so through both constitutional free speech provisions as well as through copyright protection.

What makes art powerful? Art takes the small pieces of our lives that we don’t notice or don’t want to think about and magnifies them for us. It helps us (or compels us) to see what we don’t [want to] notice. Art is necessarily always a little closer to the edge, because its function is to explore those fringes and bring back to us the parts of ourselves and our realities that we omit. It is easy to be afraid or critical of art in society because if it is done properly, it brings us face-to-face with some truth—and that can be an uncomfortable experience. From the protest songs of the 1960s to the Gothic Architecture of the high Middle Ages, art has felt a need to express the feeling of a generation distinct from its predecessors; art is forever dabbling in change, shift, exploration, progression (even if through regression), or rebellion or some sort.

How can something rebellious and chaotic be protected by order and law? Why should it be? Perhaps it is because the law sometimes understand its own need for growth and transformation—a need to endure through flexibility rather than to break as a thing brittle and rigid. Perhaps art both crafts and chronicles the human condition and our human experience. Inasmuch as “the life of law… has been experience,” it is entirely fitting that art and law be friends.


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