You may want to use these discussion questions in conjunction with the Culture Shock film series and this site to develop a specific lesson on a book or painting or other work of art, or to create a cross-curricular unit.
- What is Art?
- Do we need art? What is the purpose or goal of the arts?
- Who is an artist? What makes him or her an artist?
- Why are new art forms often controversial? From Picasso to Elvis, explore why society often finds innovation so challenging.
- How would you define "good" and "bad" art? "High" art and "low" art?
- Must art, as Mike Bidlo says in the Culture Shock film The Shock of the Nude: Manet's Olympia, "rattle our cages"?
- What is the Role of the Arts in Society?
- How are the arts a reflection of the time and place in which they are created? For example, how did the politics of the 1970s and '80s influence Maya Lin when she designed the Vietnam Veterans' Memorial? What was Jonathan Swift commenting on when he wrote Gulliver's Travels?
- How can the arts challenge or change a society? Once reviled, the jazz of the 1920s crossed racial boundaries and became a new American art form. In the 1930s, plays like the pro-labor The Cradle Will Rock challenged the American public to think about the rights of workers. You might want to have students compare and contrast art that had an impact on society in the past with current art movements or creations.
- How do politics, economics, religion, gender, or culture play a role in the creation of a work of art? How do these factors contribute to the critical and/or commercial success or failure of that work? How do they help ignite controversy over a work of art? Explore different genres through Flashpoints.
- Is Art Dangerous?
- Who decides what is acceptable art and what art is dangerous or offensive? Visit step-by-step explorations of this issue, using three different genres of art (visual arts, film, and video games) as examples.
- What rights are guaranteed by the First Amendment? How do they relate to artistic expression?
- Should the arts ever be censored? If so, why? In what way? If not, why not? For definitions of censorship, click on What is Censorship? You may also want to explore the different roles involved in producing and distributing art in Who Decides? Whose points of view are represented in the arts? Whose are not?
- Can art negatively affect social behavior or morals (e.g., can violent art cause violence or racist art cause racism)? For instance, violent video games have been accused of fostering violent behavior in young people. Why?
- Why and how does once-controversial art become accepted or even considered classic? Consider the cases of Manet's Olympia; Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn; or James Joyce's Ulyssses; or Igor Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring.