Aesthetic Tyrants

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Zippy and Rob will be happy to know that other than this there is nary a mention or an intention toward them. I'm sure Tom, shaking in his boots, will breathe a sigh of relief when I say the same is true of him. In fact, this is not directed at anyone in particular, but toward and peculiar attitude that crops up every now and then, which I consider to be worse than many of the aesthetic foibles we have paraded across the floor in the past few days.

Some people, usually a small group, feel it incumbent upon themselves to infringe upon the small joy others take in any given work of art. They take it upon themselves to be the gatekeepers of the objective artistic merit, and those with the checklist of what qualifies and what does not. Frankly, this attitude sickens me. They usually proclaim years of experience in the field or a string of letters behind their names that give them some oracular ability to pronounce whether or not a work is "good" or not.

I hate to tell them this, but they aren't the gatekeepers. No experience and no string of letters gives them the right to rob anyone of the pleasure they experience from licit entertainments. They have the right to their opinion and to substantiation of that opinion on the basis of their understanding, but they are not allowed the codicil, "And anyone who does like it doesn't know what they're talking about and suffers from a terminal case of bad taste." What presumption--of course I know what I'm talking about when I say I enjoyed a book, film, or piece of art--and it may be that what I enjoy about it is precisely what brings these aesthetic mavens to the verge of apoplexy. Too bad. I'm sorry to make them distraught, but whatever they say, I'm going to like the work anyway.

I read J.D. Robb and Georgette Heyer with nearly the same enthusiasm and enjoyment as I read James Joyce. I can name a myriad of reasons why the latter is more important, more literary, and better taste than the latter. So what? I can enumerate countless reasons why Agatha Christie is a lesser writer than James Gould Cozzens. However, at the present time, it appears that Ms. Christie will be a writer for the ages whereas Mr. Cozzens has practically disappeared.

I went through college courses that enunciated to me why I must despise Charles Dickens and love Thomas Hardy. Sorry to say, I must not have been listening too well. I love Charles Dickens, and Thomas Hardy.

The reality of the matter is that every person is entitled to his or her own opinion and enjoyment or lack thereof in a work. For example, while I can train my eye to understand and even appreciate some of the works of Picasso, there are very few I can truly be said to enjoy. There's absolutely nothing of the work of Robert Motherwell that means a thing to me, and a Jackson Pollack--in my estimation, mind you--is a massive waste of time. Now, that doesn't mean that there is something deficient in my critical faculties nor in my taste. It means that I find the aesthetic appeal of these artists harder to grasp and not so accessible as say Magritte, Gaugin, Rousseau, Corot, and Courbet.

Personally, I would class most of Thomas Kinkade in with those for whom I have little appreciation. But what would I waste anyone else's time outlining the deficiencies of style, subject matter, depth of light, etc. (Well, only so Linda won't put them up on the walls, but that's a different issue.)

People are entitled to their enjoyment of licit pleasures. The critics are entitled to their opinion of what makes good art. Personally, I am more interested in a critique of the moral appropriateness of the art. Is the pleasure truly licit--or is the subject matter essentially immoral?

Critics and scholars are entitled to their appreciation or lack thereof of works of literature. Harold Bloom, whom I consider to be brilliant in other ways, shows an unaccountable lack of access to the work of E.A. Poe. He tries to convince everyone these works are somehow inferior to other works that are a great deal more tedious and deadly to read. Just stop it!

When I critique a book, I try to give some sense of why I did or did not like it and what I found problematic about it, if anything. I often include a recommendation. I expect those who have read enough of my writing to know what I like and dislike will weigh that evaluation and say, "Well, HE didn't like it, so I will." I would not presume to judge the person who found something to enjoy where I did not. In fact, that is the person from whom I wish to learn.

A few years back Jonathan Franzen, author of an enjoyably mediocre tale of family angst The Corrections bemoaned the fact that Oprah had picked him up for her book club. "It's so middlebrow." Frankly, if Oprah had breathed a word of my novel or short story to the world, let along made it her book club selection, I'd build her a statue from the money I'd be rolling in as a result.

Watch for words like, "middlebrow," "bad taste," "I have twenty years experience," "I know what constitutes good painting," "I have a Ph.D. in semiotics and symbology. . ." what follows is sure to be a tedious, uncharitable tirade and detraction of another person's opinion.

If you (the general and vague "you", not YOU gentle reader) don't like what I like--you're entitled. Tell me about it. Let me learn from you, or talk to you and tell you what I saw. Don't tell me how you have twenty-two years experience teaching English and can recite "My Last Duchess" backwards and forwards, and you have a Ph.D. in "Post Modern autodeconstructive hegemonic theory." I don't care. Don't waste my time. Tell me what you want to say and give good, solid reasons. Or refer me to where you have provided good, solid reasons. And be charitable enough to recognize that you are not the center of the universe, nor are you the last word on theory and practice of aesthetics. In short, don't be a boor. Here, at least, you'll wind up being ignored or summarily deleted. I haven't the time nor the patience, and I don't wish to subject my readers to a diatribe about why some obscure homosexual feminist transvestite from Akikasho Japan is the only filmmaker who even makes a real movie any more. It's unbearably pretentious, precious, and more than a little bit sad.

So do yourself and everyone else a favor, lighten up--stop taking yourself so seriously and chill. (Advice I could do with following myself.)

[End spate of vituperation and frustration]

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Amen brother! I was trying to say the same thing, if obliquely, through a parody.

Yay Steven!!!!!

Hey, your reviews read a lot like mine! I'm just an ordinary person who reads a lot and watches a lot of movies. I tend to go with things I know (or suspect) I'll like, so my reviews are generally favorable. But I try to give a sense of what I enjoy in them.

Even Shakespeare didn't always write for the royals and well-educated!

Aw, come on, sometimes it is fun to trash some beloved piece just to get a rise out of certain types of folks. For instance, when I get my Southrun cousins all beered up and tell them that Skynyrd is crap.

Now, I love driving around blasting "Free Bird" as much as the next guy. And, yes, I do know ALL the lyrics to "Sweet Home Alabama", but that is not the point. The point is that I can get dialog worthy of Faulkner (had Faulkner put down a six of Budweiser), ecstatic poetry on the beauty of Sourhtern tradition, and an extemporaneous a capella rendition of "Sweet Home Alabama" just by being the gatekeeper of my cousins' tastes.

Priceless, I tell you.

Right on!



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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on July 28, 2006 7:50 PM.

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