Faklng Cultural Interest
September 11, 2003 7:32 PM   Subscribe

Is That A Masterpiece Or What? Oh, Give Me A Fucking Break! It's definitely a what, right? The great thing about growing up is you stop caring about what is admired and respected by those you admire and respect and settle down to liking what you actually like. I can remember studying and pretending to love, for instance, the films of Eisenstein; Syberberg or Jean-Marie Straub and Danielle Huillet; the writings of Kierkegaard, Proust, Musil, Robbe-Grillet or Michel Butor; the artworks of Joseph Beuys, Frank Stella or Morris Louis; the music of Ligeti, Stockhausen, Xenakis or Luigi Nono. Now, I admit I think they're all quite boring. All lies; damned lies! And yet...and yet I think this article by Tom Utley is thoroughly philistine and brutal. Still: could it be that we all fake it to some extent? When we're young, at least? Have you ever lied about your taste? Are you ashamed?
posted by MiguelCardoso (45 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'm a Poison fan 'fer Chrissake...nothing shames me...
posted by Cyrano at 7:38 PM on September 11, 2003

Here's a similarly-themed article in Salon (sorry, I don't know how to backdoor it) Freddy, Jason, Megadeth and Me in which the writer talks about his love for heavy metal music alongside his rather more high-brow tastes in books.

And to this idea is say "hell yeah", and would submit taht personal tastes are not something one should be shameful of if one came by them honestly.
posted by Space Coyote at 7:41 PM on September 11, 2003

Madonna of the Yarnwinder
Yes it does look quite odd.
posted by gametone at 7:43 PM on September 11, 2003

Sure, but another side of being awed by The Mona Lisa is that its THE Mona Lisa. You are marveling at its authenticity and its place in history not to mention its pure celebrity status - which is a self-justifying thing.

Put another way, people dont go see Napoleon's hat because its a great hat but because it the hat Napoleon wore. To hold it is to hold history.

All that aside, we inherit the tastes of our predecessors, at least until we can form or develop our own particular aesthetic. Our inventions rely on building on what has been done before. But one consequence of this is that sometimes the classics, the historical seems to us crude and boring.
posted by vacapinta at 7:47 PM on September 11, 2003

I love going to the Getty Museum, but find that I actually don't like half of what I see there. I've never figured out why.

Oddly, I do like the Madonna of the Yarnwinder....
posted by namespan at 7:47 PM on September 11, 2003

I never lie about my taste.
posted by clavdivs at 7:48 PM on September 11, 2003

Hey, namespan, I have exactly the same experience going to the Getty, and that link of yours highlights why: I absolutely love the architecture and the grounds and looking over the city (in a way that would make Ayn Rand proud).
posted by weston at 7:52 PM on September 11, 2003

A Haiku to all you Mullet wearing closet people:

Bad boy, tough guy, stud,
Raiders fan, badass mo-fo,
Hides from his gay self.

im not gay.
posted by Keyser Soze at 7:52 PM on September 11, 2003

Different times demand different arts.

What was brilliant in the context of Renaissance Italy might have no meaning in context of modern Yuba City. I believe that what vacapinta says is true - we go to behold these thing as much because of the historical importance of these things as because of the artistic value.

However, what it can teach us is how to better create art that is effective for the here and now. If you understand why Madonna of the Yarnwinder was (and often still is) considered great art in its day, perhaps you can figure out how to create great art for today.
posted by Joey Michaels at 7:52 PM on September 11, 2003

If you understand why Madonna of the Yarnwinder was (...) considered great art in its day, perhaps you can figure out how to create great art for today.

Well said, Joey. It's hard contextualizing what one sees; i.e. it's really difficult to look at a work of art (read a book; listen to a piece of music) with the knowledge necessary to imagine how it was received at the time.

We can do this with popular music because we were there - I still remember what the Beatles's "Tomorrow Never Knows" sounded like. So I more or less can get a grip on the originality of the likes of, say, early Oasis.

The same is definitely not true of painting. I guess not being able to see the context - and therefore the originality - is a form of blindness. So quickfire judgements don't really apply.

Yet I still ask whether great art, independent of time and context, shouldn't always overpower... I think it does.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 8:01 PM on September 11, 2003

when i was young wannabe rebel in a hick town, i remember lying that gays were 'fags' when i knew that wasn't how i felt at all. when i was a young 'aspiring artist', i remember lying of how i just adored conceptual art, even though i had absolutely no clue as to what the fuck was going on (mumbling incoherently to a rabbit. wtf!?)

today i still lie, but at least i can [mostly] admit to it. i have come closer to what i am not: a hick, intellectual, suave, brave or even honest. jeez, thanks miguel! ;)
posted by poopy at 8:16 PM on September 11, 2003

Centuries from now, someone will call all of these MiguelCardoso posts--once thought to be masterpieces--into question.
posted by samuelad at 8:20 PM on September 11, 2003

I much prefer the old Getty (the Roman villa--now due to reopen sometime in '05, I think) to the new one, which strikes me as rather cold, architecture-wise. (Then again, I'm stuck in the nineteenth century, so that's probably just me.) In any event, a lot of people would argue that disliking much of what's in the Getty is good taste, not bad: its painting collection is sort of second-rate with some occasional Really Neat Stuff like this portrait thrown in*, as opposed to its outstanding collections of Greek & Roman arts and antique furniture. (I confess that I was upset when I first found out that their nifty purple centaur is an eighteenth-century copy. It's still an incredible statue, darn it.)

*For reasons which have to do with the gentleman's agreement among the major L.A.-area museums regarding who has first dibs on what.
posted by thomas j wise at 8:28 PM on September 11, 2003

Yet I still ask whether great art, independent of time and context, shouldn't always overpower... I think it does.

Example? You might be right, but I'm having a hard time thinking of an example.
posted by JanetLand at 8:28 PM on September 11, 2003

'High' versus 'Low' culture? How positively antediluvian of you!

I knows what I likes (and I honestly did like Robbe-Grillet for a while, oddly enough, although it may have been the drugs, mostly), and although it's fun to jaw about it, I pretty much can't be bothered any more.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 8:30 PM on September 11, 2003

Much of the art I like the most (both "high-brow" and "low-brow") I did not like the first time I experienced it. Yeah, it's stupid to go on pretending to like things for a long time just to impress other people, but a little of that can help shape your tastes so that you can appreciate and enjoy great art.
posted by straight at 8:32 PM on September 11, 2003

Shakespeare in the Bush

Much referenced article about cultural context and one of the greatest works in the Western cannon.

I love looking at classical art (and I love most of the great visual art up until the early twentieth century - don't always understand it, but I love to look at it) but the only piece of art that has ever literally taken my breath away when I saw it with my own eyes was Winged Victory of Samothrace in the Louvre. I was walking up the stairs and suddenly there it was. I gasped and couldn't take my eyes off of it for a good 30 minutes.

I have no idea why.
posted by Joey Michaels at 8:36 PM on September 11, 2003

Guilty, to some extent. Especially when it comes to great film that I don't get (generally, I do prefer sound and color). But I think it's self-limiting.

For example: I've become enamored of "electronica" in recent years when "techno" and "house" were yuck. But I still dig Ornette Coleman's Free Jazz, long merciless blasts of static from Merzbow, etc. (See? There I go namedropping. Damn.) Of course, "electronica" is new in a lot of ways, but you could argue that it's just a cover...

For most people--even "elitists"--I would venture to say that it takes too much effort to bury oneself deeply within an aesthetic one doesn't really appreciate.
posted by micropublishery at 8:44 PM on September 11, 2003

Example? You might be right, but I'm having a hard time thinking of an example.

Janet: You're quite right; it's personal. But in painting, for me, outside chronological order,anything by Goya, Velasquez, Titian, Rembrandt, some Canaletto, Klée, Matisse, Kiefer, Pollock, Rothko, Picasso, even Van Gogh....

In music, Bach, Beethoven (not Mozart), Wagner, Dvorak, Mahler, Weber, Penderecki....

In literature Virgil, Petrarch, Dante, Camões, Donne, Ronsard, Pushkin, Tchechov, Shakespeare, Valéry, Eliot, Pound, Wallace Stevens, Kafka, Beckett...

Oh this is ridiculous, but you get what I mean. Work that dumbfounds. Startles. Almost belittles...
posted by MiguelCardoso at 8:59 PM on September 11, 2003

I gotta say -- the article seems a bit of a thin excuse for the discussion, Miguel. Not that I mind, really, but before leaping in I thought I'd go back and read the thing.

It would be interesting to put it to a scientific test: wire up the average self-declared art-lover, stick him in front of a Leonardo and measure his endorphin levels. Then give him a flash of Kylie’s bum and measure them again....

This is one of those newspaper "humor" pieces that you occasionally see, where the writer feigns an unconvincing curmudgeonly stance about some thing or other in order to hack out 500 words or so.

That said...the thing about pretending to like things is that it is often the best way to come to truly appreciate things. I pretended in college to like Wallace Stevens, who I did not understand and found far too GOOFY by comparison to many more austere modernists, who more suited my jejune conception of depth. But after awhile...Stevens rubs off on you. The sheer pleasure in the language gets to you and one day you wake up and you realize you like him even if you don't always understand him.

Ditto Picasso. You go and stand in front of those five dames from Avignon, stand there and look at 'em hard. It doesn't work. Then you go and read and think and try it again. OK, now you appreciate it, understand a fragment of its place in the history of painting. But you still kinda think its ugly. After a few more confrontations, something in the gaze of one of the faces hits you...

OK, I confess, it's not my favorite painting, still. I'd rather look at Vermeer. But now it interests me, it's a puzzle to work on every time I see a reproduction of it, and a challenge the next time I visit Moma. I'll take that over the limited pleasure of "admiring" any day.
posted by BT at 9:05 PM on September 11, 2003

In preview -- I kinda agree about overpowering, Miguel, but the tricky thing about art is that it doesn't always take you by main force. Sometimes it will make you wait, and work, and pretend to nap through every encounter with you.

Then, when you're not looking -- wham! And it's got your wallet!
posted by BT at 9:08 PM on September 11, 2003

I really do like gin and tonic. Even though I'm not gay.
posted by sharpener at 9:08 PM on September 11, 2003

wasn't there a study done on the correlation between education/privilege/culture and social status?
posted by poopy at 9:12 PM on September 11, 2003

If you like gin and tonic, sharpener, you're gay - you're not just pretending to be gay. That, in itself, is worthy of applause, Face the fact that you're "artistic" and be done with it. Of course, if you prefer lemon to lime then you just may be bisexual. And a dash of Angostura bitters, as we all know, can make all the difference. But still! ;)
posted by MiguelCardoso at 9:16 PM on September 11, 2003

Miguel, why not Mozart? Can you really not be startled and dumbfounded by Don Giovanni, Zauberfloete or even the Requiem?

Speaking for myself, I recently went to see the new permanent Saatchi Gallery and was sadly surprised to find only two or three works that spoke to me in any way whatsoever, unless it was in a tone of pathetically lurid morbidity or simple failure. I had fully expected, despite the hype and furore surrounding brit-art stars such as Emin, Hirst and Turk, to find some geniune emotion, something new, raw, dangerous and perhaps even enthralling.

But no, all I saw among the pickled remains was half-digested psychology posing as philosophical treatise and doubly-regurgiated icons of pop art, reassembled (with a nudge-nudge wink-wink say no more) in an utterly soul-diminishing way. So it stirred some emotions: it made me want to kill myself. Is this the best that modern British culture has to offer?

Yuk. I'd rather stare at a plate of warm puke. Come to think of it, maybe Saatchi would be interested?

Yes, the masterpieces have to be crammed down our throats, because today's quick-fix telly-raised culture cannot possibly appreciate anything that takes more time to digest than a soap opera washed down by a McD's.

n.b. I like a G&T too. With lime of course. Preferably Tanqueray, but Bombay Sapphire will do at a pinch.
posted by cbrody at 9:33 PM on September 11, 2003

BT, a lot of your comments resonated with me...much of my favorite art is something I have evolved an appreciation for rather than having had an immediate wow factor.

Your Demoiselles d'Avignon link didn't work for me - but Picasso's work is a good case in point. At one point, I was attracted mainly to his early works and found his later work jarring. Years of exposure have given me a great appreciation for his later work too. My taste evolves, refines, morphs as I layer on more cultural influences.

I would advocate keeping an open mind, but if you like something, so be it! Fine art is nice, but I am also quite a fan of the gloriously lowbrow. (quelle surprise!)
posted by madamjujujive at 9:36 PM on September 11, 2003

Ha. Miguel mentioned Pollock. I have gazed upon "Blue Poles". And yes, as a painting, I can't see what's so special about it. The JPEG linked to above is almost better looking than the painting itself. It has little attractive form, no really interesting movement. Certainly no story.

But then I thought, maybe the "art" isn't in the paint and canvas. Maybe the "art" is in the millions of dollars paid for it, the countless books on it, the public opinion on it, the strong feelling of dissapointment when you actually see it. These human "canvasses" are the ones full of interest, attraction, and movement.
posted by Jimbob at 10:23 PM on September 11, 2003

Well, maybe I'm a bit artistic, but I'm pretty sure I'm not gay...not that there's anything wrong with that ;-) And lime, always a lime.

As for art, I'm probably pretty unsophisticated - more of a "I knows what I likes" kind of guy. Sure I can recognize a Picasso, a Miró or a Van Gough (among others), but I couldn't tell you what "period" or "style" they belong to - and frankly I couldn't care less as long as it appeals to me.

I'll watch a movie before I'll watch a film.

And for me, music is a mood. I'm as happy with Mozart or Metallica, Blue Rodeo or Bluegrass, whatever the situation calls for. The only strain that grates a bit is the original country/western (not the modern "Shania" style, although she is an affront to my senses in her own right, probably due to the excessive face time she receives here in Canada).

I suppose some of my tastes grew out of a perceived need to like what all the other kids were liking, but I'd agree that eventually you just like what you like and the elitists be damned.
posted by sharpener at 10:25 PM on September 11, 2003

I'd almost argue, Miguel, that the way a work was originally recieved can actually work against its status as Art. For instance, one of my favourite blues albums, Muddy Waters' "Electric Mud", was viewed (and in a way, rightly so) as a bastardised abomination by purists when it was released--forsaking Muddy's by then well established Chicago blues style in favour of an amped-up amalgamation of acid rock, free jazz and proto-hip-hop drums. Muddy played no guitar on the album, and his deep, moaning vocals seem like a surreal juxtaposition on top of all that funky chaos his (borrowed) band is laying down. But it's that cognitive dissonance--the pure spirit of the blues, sounding at once primordial and eternal, the emotional rawness that lies at the heart of all great American music, contrasting with the kind of lysergic futurism that would later drive Miles Davis' 70's output--it's that which makes it, for me, a great piece of art. Even if Muddy himself probably hated it.
posted by arto at 11:07 PM on September 11, 2003

I genuinely enjoy Proust and Ligeti, at least some of the time. I agree, Miguel, that it is part of growing up (or should be), to form an authentic taste of ones own. In my case, for example, I tend to prefer my books and music highbrow and my movies trashy. But I'm still enough of a snob, though, to feel a faint embarrassment at liking certain songs or TV shows...
posted by misteraitch at 12:12 AM on September 12, 2003

I don't know if people pretend to like a Canaletto over a Kylie, but I'm sure most of them get some pleasure out of knowing they have "good taste". Just as sure as there are people who take pleasure in specifically not liking a Canaletto over a Kylie.

I always thought that if the act of appreciation gives you more pleasure than the actual appreciation, then you're missing out on something.
posted by fullerine at 12:56 AM on September 12, 2003

You go and stand in front of those five dames from Avignon, stand there and look at 'em hard. It doesn't work. Then you go and read and think and try it again...

Maybe it was because I read about it before I saw it, and only knew it through reproductions in books, but when I finally saw it I was amazed. It's the only painting I've ever had my photo taken next to, to remind me of that.

Blue Poles was another like that, but I skipped the photo that time because I lived a few miles from it for the best part of a decade. Saw it many times. My love for it never abated.

Great post, Miguel. Haven't read the article yet (I will, don't worry), but great post.
posted by rory at 2:59 AM on September 12, 2003

There is art that only appeals to the few , they should be allowed to enjoy their art without being called pretentious or such like.
I don't know how you tell the fakers from the ones having mutiple orgasms though and if you're faking it ,then you're the loser, why should anyone else care?
Of course if it's a pulling the chicks technique then the chicks shouldn't be so deep.

I'll stop rambling now.
posted by dprs75 at 3:04 AM on September 12, 2003

I'm still waiting for the 'appreciation of classical music' gene to kick in. I try, I really do, but it still sounds like clockwork to me. With the single glorious exception of Wagner I always leave the concert hall thinking that those guys would have given everything for a copy of Cubase and a 303.
posted by grahamwell at 3:06 AM on September 12, 2003

I could not live in some of your heads.
posted by rushmc at 4:33 AM on September 12, 2003

I've always been pretty firm about liking what I like (and yes, yes, maybe I take a tiny little bit of secret pleasure in being a contrarian just for the sake of it, fine, sue me) but it shocks me how many educated, smart people around me still buy into the whole "I should like this" idiocy.
I have a friend who I consider very brilliant but the look on her face recently when I said that I thought abstract art in general was a total crock was amazing. She gave me this horrified, patronizing, pitying look, as if I had revealed myself to be some kind of base yokel. And frankly, my reaction was to pity her, too, for being so shocked at the concept of questiong its validity.
posted by CunningLinguist at 4:50 AM on September 12, 2003

Another point about Blue Poles, having just looked at Jimbob's link... I wanted the 'click image for enlargement' to give me a reproduction the size of the wall. Anything else sells it short. Which was my point about Demoiselles, too. Scale is everything. A souvenir statue of the Empire State is no substitute for the original. (And, in the case of reproductions of paintings, colour fidelity is everything.)

And I have actually read the article now; an amusing rant. Don't agree about Leonardo (though for my Italian Renaissance painting dollar, I'd prefer a Michelangelo or Boticelli, if you've got one spare), but the basic point about people faking interest in something or other is obviously sound. And... so what? Of course we nod politely when we're on a guided tour. Nobody screams 'Jesus, what a crock' when they're wheeled in front of the Mona Lisa; and I don't scream 'Jesus, what a crock' if someone shows me their extensive Care Bear collection. (Actually, seeing a whole collection of Care Bears would be something. Something very strange, but something. Kind of like seeing this.)

But if anyone questioned my high/low culture credentials, I could bore the pants off 'em in either direction, as could any of us in one field or another.
posted by rory at 5:17 AM on September 12, 2003

And yes, I have seen the Pez museum in Burlingame. Made a special trip out there. And kept the fact close to my chest for lo these four years, until I could find exactly the right people to impress with my pop-cultural savvy.

Oh, who am I kidding. It was because of that Seinfeld episode.
posted by rory at 5:26 AM on September 12, 2003

the article seems a bit of a thin excuse for the discussion, Miguel
You're beginning to grasp the essence of Miguelismo, BT. And what you say is very true:
the thing about pretending to like things is that it is often the best way to come to truly appreciate things

Great post, Miguel. Haven't read the article yet... but great post.
I guess it's not about the links, it's about the Miguelismo.

Miguel, if you genuinely find Proust boring, I feel sorry for you and wonder about your writing. (I feel sorry for you for not appreciating Mozart, too, but at least you're not a composer.)
posted by languagehat at 7:37 AM on September 12, 2003

I guess it's not about the links, it's about the Miguelismo.

Ahhh, my dear languagehat, you misunderstand my complex relationship with the Miguel...is...hmm.

It's a good post. It brought a link to the table, raised an interesting question in an amusing way which was bound to stimulate discussion (and friendly disagreement, as opposed to the unfriendly disagreement we've had enough of this past week), and has indeed provoked some good responses.

Okay, 'great' was a tad hyperbolic. I enjoyed it, that's all. Wasn't suggesting that composing posts for MeFi compares with, say, Proust, or Mozart. (Well, Mozart. I've never got past picking up Swann's Way, contemplating the number of pages in it and its successors, and deciding that I can wait a while yet, so offer no verdict on Proust.)
posted by rory at 7:59 AM on September 12, 2003

Sorry about the busted link to MOMA's site and the Demoiselles d'Avignon. It was late, and I didn't check the URL closely in preview. And thanks for the fix, mjj.

And arto, thanks for the phrase, "lysergic futurism," which I will have to make good use of in future discussions of...oh, something.
posted by BT at 11:56 AM on September 12, 2003

the films of Eisenstein; Syberberg or Jean-Marie Straub and Danielle Huillet; the writings of Kierkegaard, Proust, Musil, Robbe-Grillet or Michel Butor; the artworks of Joseph Beuys, Frank Stella or Morris Louis; the music of Ligeti, Stockhausen, Xenakis or Luigi Nono.

danielle huillet! oh yeah bayby! i love that spread she did for guccione. show me the puppies, danny! arf! hubba hubba! now, what the fuck where you going on about miguel?
posted by quonsar at 12:08 PM on September 12, 2003

rory: I knew what you meant—just couldn't resist the opportunity for a snark. MeFitis strikes again.
posted by languagehat at 12:19 PM on September 12, 2003

Xenakis is probably an alien.

and this post is masturbation.
posted by rhyax at 6:11 PM on September 12, 2003

I'm pretty sure those Africans were onto something about Hamlet.
posted by wobh at 6:43 PM on September 12, 2003

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