Monday, May 2, 2011

NBC's Parks and Recreation asks: What is art?

I recently received an email from one of my former students who wrote, "TOK seems to pop up everywhere now." I was not surprised by her revelation. Once you study epistemology and become attuned to looking for knowledge issues, you realize the great extent to which questions of knowledge underpin most of what you read in journals, magazines, and news reports.

On occasion, knowledge issues also creep into popular culture. This week's episode of the NBC sitcom Parks and Recreation, entitled "Jerry's Painting," revolves around the appropriateness of a painting for display in a city government building.

The episode raises several questions about art and art appreciation:
  • What is the proper function of art?
  • How do we know what is good art?
  • How do we evaluate the acceptability of art?
  • To what extent should art reflect the values of the institutions that make it publicly available?
The episode provides few answers to these questions—one imagines the writers never sought to do much more than get the audience to laugh—but it does suggest the complex relationship that people and institutions have with art.

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