Tuesday, July 27, 2010

A Response to Mark Athitakis: Part Two

Mark Athitakis wrote about his relationship with the Advanced Genius Theory, and I'm responding in bits and pieces. Here is part two. (Read part one)

From the post:
[Hartley] writes in the book’s conclusion: “Once you have achieved the Advanced state of mind, something amazing happens: you start to like everything.” He’s not arguing against discernment: “You can still have ‘good taste,’” he writes. “It’s just that the question becomes how much you like a work of art rather than whether you like it.” It’s a powerful counter against critics who come up with contrived reasons to dismiss things. But how much better is it to come up with contrived reasons to like them?
A fair question, albeit one I think might be his duty, as a critic, to answer. My take, though, is that it is far, far better to come up with contrived reasons to like something than to dislike them because liking things is more pleasurable. (In a pure sense of the term, rather than the pleasure one gets from being miserable.) However, I’m not asking people to make up reasons to like the later work of Advanced Artists. I do write that if you need to trick yourself into liking Advance art by pretending to like it, that is fine, because eventually if the work is truly Advanced you’ll discover its real greatness. I started out laughing at Lou Reed’s later work, and ended up sincerely loving it. The fact that I thought it was funny at one time doesn’t diminish my eventual appreciation for it. I just needed a way in.

Another point is that I don’t think it is a contrivance to say that an artist’s full body of work can tell us something of the quality of that artist’s latest work. Or at least it’s no more of a contrivance than other ways to judge quality of a work of art. It seems to be perfectly acceptable for critics to talk about an artist’s “relevance,” which is really a measure of the audience’s reaction to a work rather than the work itself. Between judging a recent work of art based on an artist’s history versus that work’s relevance, I think the former is less of a contrivance. But you could easily say the opposite, and there would be no way for me to argue because ultimately we are talking about art. There’s just no formula for what is good, which leads me to two final thoughts:

If I say a song is good, then that probably means that it meets a certain set of conditions. But there are songs that I like that don’t appear to meet any of those conditions. These are often called guilty pleasures. It may be the guilt is what I like, but I don’t feel guilty about them in private, just around others. Anyway, if I like something that violates my rules for goodness, that means that the rules are flexible, which means I can’t always count on them to guide me in the right direction. The second, related thought is that some songs I don’t like at first I eventually like after something has changed. Usually the reason is that someone I respect tells me I should listen to it again, but there are lots of other external factors. The whole point of the Advanced Genius Theory is that you should take a chance on some things you might have missed. I encourage you to look everywhere, but the best bets are those artists that you at one time loved but for whatever reason you stopped.

So going back to the original question, “How much better it to come up with contrived reasons to like [Advanced Artists]?” As long as it allows you to discover new things, then much better. When you say yes to something there are endless possibilities, but when you say no, then that’s the end.

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