"...art, as a whole, has a number of responsibilities: to entertain, to educate, inspire, to question the status quo, to infuriate, to challenge, to make people want to bang their heads, or just to make things kinda awesome. The list goes on and on."
That quote was taken from a Facebook post by Irrational Games’ co-founder and creative director Ken Levine. And while it’s a largely expansive, not especially challenging sentiment (I dare you to tell me what “kinda awesome” means), he nonetheless hits on what’s — for me — the Platonic ideal of the function of art: which is to say it has many functions. Some will be noble, some will be ugly, and some will be, well, “awesome,” if you’re so inclined to go that way, but it’s really your challenge as an artist or creative to figure out what the purpose of your art is.
Yeah, okay, I’m not saying anything here particularly insightful myself, but I’m fascinated by this idea of art (and the artist) having a responsibility. Back to Levine, the auteur behind the gory “BioShock” shooters is largely fine-tuning one of his recent quotes where he called for art to show the true impact of gun violence on human beings. “War,” Levine says, “is about sending pieces of metal very fast at people and tearing them to bits on the most primal level.” Which sort of puts Levine on his back foot trying to defend “Bioshock” and “Bioshock Infinite,” two games with an impressive array of gun violence while offering no real commentary on it.
We could accuse Levine here of attempting to square his work with his ideals (and falling short), but I think it’s more complicated, interesting, and exciting than that: as a creator, Levine is allowed to contain multitudes. The Ken Levine behind “Bioshock” (and the acclaimed “System Shock”) may have more to say about questions of free will, indoctrination, and inequality across several years’ worth of games, but Ken Levine the artist may have broader views about violence that he wasn’t able to necessarily contain in his own work.
So whaddya do? How do you answer for the moral ambitions, the “responsibility” of your work? Clearly, that’s up to you. The only thing you’re responsible for is making sure that what you create hits the target you were aiming for.