Dear Jon . . . (#18) This is Not For You

Dear Jon,

Be gone buzz words. Buzz off buzz words. Bzzzzzzzt.

Let’s talk attitudes, because there’s another aspect to deal with. There’s one attitude which you talk about, I should read, listen to, look at x. One side of the groat there. The other side of the groat: but it’s not for me, it’s not for people like me, it’s for other people.

Popular culture is everywhere. It is played in supermarkets, it is on television, it is on the internet. It is essentially the default. Some of it is great, profound, timeless; much of it isn’t. Regardless, it is here, there, and also everywhere. Usually, though not always, to get something else (what might tediously be called high culture or whatever, that discussion isn’t for now) there needs to be a conscious choice. This is a problem because often that which is unfamiliar is other and therefore, by definition perhaps, not for the likes of me.

Which is a problem because then you can’t make the judgements: do I like it or dislike it or hate or love it or it makes me queasy or jubilant or moves me more than I can understand or scares me more than I understand or gives me peace that passeth understanding shantih shantih shantih . . . because you’re busy not being there to make aforesaid judgements.  

Because essentially you need exposure.

You need exposure. And the internet can be helpful for this, because the idle stream of consciousness way it works can lead to unexpected places. You may arrive at Schoenberg or a recommendation for a novel or a beautiful piece of art that you may want to go see in person. Or not. Because often the internet is a mirror; it only gives you want you are willing to give.

To get a proper grasp on the questions you issued (Why do I like/dislike it? What do I like about it? What is it making me feel? What thoughts is it giving me?) you need to exercise exercising your judgement. By which I mean doing loads of montages in which you’re lifting books like dumbbells while listening to music and looking at pictures. 

But one of the ways we get better at judging, indeed how we judge at all, is by making comparisons.

Essentially, you need repeated exposure. Like a cure to claustrophobia, it requires something akin to being driven around in the boot of a car doing loops of the Coventry ringroad (at some point, believe me, you will stop screaming). No wait, this is bad metaphor. This is the kind of exposure that may be traumatising.

A lot of early exposure is through school. This is a gamble, because often education is geared up not to provide an aesthetic education per se; it is education toward passing a test, toward nailing assessment objectives, toward whatever can be quantified. So, atlot of it relies on individual teachers. I was lucky; I had a lot of great teachers. I had a maths teacher who leant me The Chrysalids (or maybe The Midwich Cuckoos – it had telepathic children in it, dammit). It was a teacher that recommended Dostoyevsky and Proust to me. But I know that for loads of people what could have been a love for literature becomes a loathing. Picking up a copy of Great Expectations gives them flashbacks to whiteboards, to memorising quotations, to boredom inexpressible. 

One way, and its not a sure way, to get art into someone’s hands, eyes, heart, is simply passionate advocacy. Someone who can simply say: ‘This is for you. Here. Someone who will probably never know who you are made it for you.’ And giving their  judgement – why they loved it, how it made them feel, what obsessed them about it from the first day they read it to this –  in such a way that you can see the enthusiasm in their eyes, the animation on their face, in the stream of their voice. Essentially, someone who can give you the best case for whatever it is.

Now, of course, whatever it is – you may not like it, and that’s okay. But even getting the understanding of why someone else likes it, the appreciation of how that could be the case, I think is a plus good thing.

Or you may like it. You may love it. It may be your new favourite thing.

And I'd like to give you the opportunity to do that for the three people from Azerbaijan (or whoever it is that actually reads this blog). Advocate for something. Make us believe.

Yours,

Jim