May 31st, 2008


The Good, the Bad, and the Subjective

For my semi-philosophical discussion of the unspecified time period, I'd like to address the question as to whether there's any such thing as objectively good art. I have to say that I don't think there is, but I also don't think it's totally just an issue of each person's own taste. I make a distinction between "I can see why some people like this, but I'm not among them" and "ye gods, this is BAD." And there are plenty of things I like, but don't think are exactly High Art. But I think all of these things are also subjective. There is, however, the caveat that there are certain things audiences (at least in our own culture) have come to expect. When watching a movie or reading a novel, we expect a coherent plot and identifiable characters. With a song, we expect a melody. Looking at a painting, we expect to know what it is. That's not to say that there isn't good art that doesn't fit these expectations, but I think it tends to be more controversial. There also seem to be some people who tend to like things simply because they DON'T fit expectations, dismissing the masses who don't like them as philistines who just don't understand. Putting aside the fact that the Philistines appear to have been the most advanced culture in the region at the time of the Davidic kings, there have been times when I've been one of these elitist sorts, but others where I think, "No, the masses are right. This DOES suck." I do think there's a bit of popular prejudice against anything that you have to think about, but maybe that's just my subjective opinion. I also might posit that there are certain things that are generally viewed as bad because they're offensive, but with all the popular movies out that are blatantly sexist or otherwise prejudiced, perhaps this isn't even the case. And sometimes offensiveness can be used in an artist's favor, but this requires the person to KNOW that it's something offensive. I think part of the problem with, say, the "Hey, aren't fat people funny?" stuff that Hollywood is churning out nowadays is that the creators don't even acknowledge that they're being offensive.

Along with this, there seems to be a conception among some people that popular entertainment is bad. This comes from different segments of the population--I don't think the kids who only want to listen to indie music are the same as the stuffed-shirt academics who dismiss popular literature--but it strikes me as basically the same kind of prejudice. Yes, a lot of what's popular is (or at least appears to be) really crappy, and I have no clue what its appeal is. But that's probably even more true for most unpopular stuff. I can't really buy the distinction between what's viewed as High and Popular Art, anyway. After all, most Classics gained that status because they're popular, or at least were at one point, right?

And speaking of popular things that suck, I'm glad that my wife has no intention of dragging me to the Sex and the City movie, as she hates it more than I do. I'm not sure why anyone would drag someone else to a movie they don't want to see anyway. Sure, I've gone with people to see films I probably wouldn't have seen otherwise, but nothing I was dead set against seeing, you know? I think a lot of people still have the idea that they can't go to the movies alone, even though a dark room where you have to be quiet is hardly an ideal place for social interaction. I really don't much like going to concerts alone, but that's not to say I haven't done so several times.

And here's the survey that rockinlibrarian did, to which I alluded in my last post. I always tell myself I probably shouldn't do any more of these, but then I always come across questions I actually want to answer. The unfortunate thing is that they're always packaged with questions that I've already answered a bunch of times, or ones to which I can't think of decent answers. Oh, well. Collapse )