July 30, 2014

In Defense of Snobbery

All Hail Sir Reginald Snobbington the Third

Okay, I’ve got a sure-fire formula that’s guaranteed to make you the most annoying guy (or gal) this weekend: after watching whatever movie you and your friends, your wife or your family wants to see, talk about why you hated it afterward. And don’t be general, make sure you go into all of the specific errors that the director made, and how you would have done it better. Be prepared for accusations of ruining the movie by over-analyzing it, and not enjoying it “for what it is”, be prepared to be labeled a snob.  You’ll be guaranteed to be hated by your loved ones, but you’ll also be guaranteed to be a bit better of an artist (that is, if you actually go out and try and create art afterward).

Hating other people’s art is an essential part of becoming a better artist. Sure, it’s a great idea to analyze art that you love, but honestly, you will learn the lessons much more saliently if you see what’s lacking.

Why is this so important?

Well, one way of looking at art is as a discussion. One artist creates a piece of work, and says, “Here, here is my understanding of what life, truth and beauty is all about.” And another artist comes along and says, “That’s a good start, but you’ve missed this little bit of life, truth and beauty over here.” And so it goes, on and on, for thousands of years.

Greeks look at sculpture, and say, “Hey this could look more like a real thing.’” and start making stuff that looks more real. The next group of Greeks say, “Wow, that looks real, but wouldn’t it be more exciting if they we’re putting their weight on one leg?” and then the next Greeks come along and say, “Wow, that contrapaso stuff is swell, but how about some more flowing drapery and dynamic poses?” and before you know it, three artistic movements just happened.

Hmmm, not bad.

Now, that's more like it!

That’s the thing about movements: they never happen in a vacuum. They’re always a response to the one that came before. You can only engage in the conversation if you know the language, and the language of art is critical analysis (aka talking like a snob).

What does analysis mean? It means, yes, picking things apart. Nitpicking, if you will. It means, first paying attention to how you feel, and second coming up with a good explanation for why you feel that way. Look at the details. Figure out how they work together. Break apart those details, and try and understand the finer details inside. Question the assumptions. Challenge the stuff that’s phoney.

“Wait,” you ask, “won’t it ruin the experience for me?” It might, but what is more important to you? Do you want to say something significant with your art? Do you want to illuminate a bit of truth or beauty, or do you want to be transported to the magical realm of Middle Earth?

Umm...Middle Earth.

And to be quite honest, analysis does not ruin art for me. It empowers me. Rather than having an artistic experience dictated to me, I have a say in what the experience will be. Rather than being told that explosions and Megan Fox are awesome, I can say, “Hmmm, I don’t think so.” And when a piece of art is really well made, I can decide to let myself really enjoy it.

Okay, I want to finish with one more little secret:  you don’t always have to open your mouth. If you’re always analyzing things, and ruining the party in the process, then you should probably just shut up. The job will get done just as well if you wait to do it with other snobs,  write it down in your hoity-toity theory blog, or scream it into a pillow. As long as you have a chance to figure it all out, and as long as you actually go out and make something in response, being an art snob can only make you a better artist.

Comments

  1. .

    Yes!

    Though I had better add in the name of Art that I didn’t really care for the clause “And to be quite honest” — moving right in to the not-ruining argument would have been a stronger argument than beginning with a superfluous claim of pending honesty.

    Now to write my own blogpost…..

  2. Brandon says:

    Hmmm, I should know better than to expose my writing to professional writers, but to be quite honest, I think you’re write.

    I try to write in a conversational tone, but I guess in this case I did it at the expense of writing something that didn’t actually communicate anything.

    Maybe a clause like, “And here’s the thing” would have worked better?

    Maybe I should hire you as an editor.

  3. Did you misspell “right” on purpose?

    I’m a big advocate of snobbery, though I prefer the term developed or refined taste. As I grew as a painter I have let artists that I once appreciated fall by the side as my knowledge and experience have expanded. This dialogue of development that occurs on an individual and a historic collective base is absolutely vital. It ebbs and flows, though and not every step in time is absolutely a step forward. The Greeks and before them, the Egyptians were not going for naturalism in their work, they were in pursuit of the sublime divine. They built from simple to complex systems of proportions that attempted to embody the immaterial divine in rough physical material. This effort of looking up and beyond the objective human sensory experience is the historic drive of art.

    The trouble that we face in a pluralistic western society is that anything is acceptable. This can be an advantage, since it opens up new avenues of exploration. But, in a culture where everything is acceptable there is a legion of voices clamoring for our attention. In our schools it means that our education is disjointed and unfocused. While we have a plurality of choices, it’s almost impossible know what to choose. At the same time, we also live a lot longer than our ancestors, so we do have more time. In this type of environment, anyone that really wants to participate in the creation of culture needs to be educated and discerning. We have access to more knowledge than DaVinci could have imagined, more time to deeply involve ourselves, more time to develop, more access to participate in culture, and far too many of us have no idea what to do with it.

    I think this may be a big part of the cultural questions of our time. For now we have American Idol and Lady Gaga to gratify our need for common culture.

  4. This post was excellent. It echoes a lot of thoughts that I have had concerning so-called snobbery. It also reminds me of a couple of references. There was an episode of South Park where Kyle’s mom went to visit Kenny’s mom over on “the bad side of the tracks”. Upon sipping her drink, she realized that it was just warm water, and asked if there was any cocoa or coffee grounds laying around. Kenny’s mom responded with, “oh, we don’t have any of that hoity toity fancy stuff around here.” Clearly, snobbery is in the eyes of the beholder.

    I’m also reminded of a book by Ruth Reichl, where a friend of hers says something to the effect of, “what’s the point of being a snob if it ruins your ability to enjoy life?”

  5. .

    You know I love you.

  6. Fantastic article. I dig.

Trackbacks

  1. […] I have an admission to make…I haven’t even seen the movie yet. But the theme over at the Avalanche Blog was Pacific Rim, so I thought why not do something awesome before I see the movie and possibly disappoint myself (yes, I’m kind of film snob.) […]

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