I took a lot of flak for expressing wrong musical opinions last week. Since I so enjoy the role of human flamebait, I’ve decided to have another go at clarifying my views about Art in general. See, until a few years ago, I was intimidated by art and music snobs, by the sort of person who recently deposited the following on Lance Fortnow’s blog:
man, the ignorance displayed here is taken to new levels. your ph.d. in computer science qualifies you as nothing musically, dumbass. ever heard of dynamic range? go look it up.
A bit uncivil, perhaps, but doesn’t this anonymous fount of musical wisdom have a point? After all, spouting off about quantum computers, entanglement, or Gödel’s Theorem without studying them first would certainly qualify you as a dumbass. So if I don’t think the same about music, then aren’t I a big fat hypocrite?
Ah, but consider the following. If — as the snob would be first to affirm — the purpose of art is not to assert or argue anything as a research paper would, but simply to produce an emotional response in the viewer or listener, then what does it even mean to be unqualified to voice that response? Presumably one person’s emotional response is as valid as another’s. Indeed, the difficulty with the snob is that he wants it both ways. “What made Picasso the greatest artist of the twentieth century is ineffable, indescribable — and I’m the one who knows enough to describe it to you.” “This opera is astounding because it induces a visceral, gut response in the audience — and if you don’t have that response, your gut must be mistaken.” The point is that, once you’ve declared something to be nonscientific, emotional, subjective, you have to allow that someone else’s subjective reaction might differ from yours.
So on this day, let us celebrate our freedom from the tyranny of pretending to like stuff we don’t. I’ll start the honesty ball rolling by dividing the world’s artistic output into three categories, then giving examples of each (not representative, just the first things that popped into my head).
Art that’s stirred my soul
Shakespeare (comedies especially)
Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn
The Mind-Body Problem by Rebecca Goldstein
Everything by Pixar
Arcadia by Tom Stoppard
Art that maybe hasn’t moved me, but that I can nevertheless agree is quite impressive, based not on what other people say but on my own experience of it
The Sistine Chapel (indeed, pretty much everything in Rome)
Them big paintings in the Louvre
Them big Buddhist temples in Kyoto
Early Woody Allen
Art in neither of the two above categories
Late Woody Allen
Everything in the MoMA
Weird indie films where nothing happens
Anything by David Lynch or M. Night Shyamalan
Rap (except MC Hawking)
PS. There’s really no need to flame me if you have different tastes, since I won’t take it as a moral failing on your part. (Except with regard to M. Night Shyamalan.)