Should Art Taste Good?

Posted in Flotsam by LBM on August 3, 2012

Breakfast, Trail’s End Restaurant, Kanab, Utah by Stephen Shore

I was recently reminded of last November’s post, ‘Should Artists Be Entertainers’ when I read about Nick Hornby’s new book ‘More Baths, Less Talking.’ This book is a compilation of Hornby’s ‘Stuff I’ve been Reading’ column in The Believer.  I’m a huge fan of this column. Hornby doesn’t write formulaic book reviews. He talks about the real experience of reading. Over and over again this reading prompts Hornby to address the myriad ways in which we consume culture.

In one column, Horby discusses  Carl Wilson’s book about Céline Dion, Let’s Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste:

Why do I and my friends and all rock critics and everyone likely to be reading this book and magazines like the Believer hate Céline Dion?… We are cool people! We read Jonathan Franzen and we listen to Pavement, but we also love Mozart and Seinfeld! Hurrah for us! In a few short, devastating chapters, Wilson chops himself and all of us off at the knees. “It’s always other people following crowds, whereas my own taste reflects my specialness,” Wilson observes.

In a 2006 article in The Telegraph entitled ‘How To Read,’ Hornby talks about the need to embrace all forms of literature.

The regrettable thing about the culture war we still seem to be fighting is that it divides books into two camps, the trashy and the worthwhile. No one who is paid to talk about books for a living seems to be able to convey the message that this isn’t how it works, that ‘good’ books can provide every bit as much pleasure as ‘trashy’ ones.

Why worry about that if there’s no difference anyway? Because it gives you more choice. You may not have to read about conspiracies, or the romantic tribulations of thirty-something women, in order to be entertained.”

Yesterday my friend Ron Jude, wrote a comment after reading this quote in an in-flight magazine:

Originality is dangerous. If you want to increase the sum of what is possible for human beings to say, to know, to understand and therefore in the end, to be, you actually have to go to the edge and push outwards… This is the kind of art whose right to exist we must not only defend but celebrate. Art is not entertainment. At its very best, it’s a revolution.” —Salman Rushdie, in an address at Cooper Union, May 6, 2012

I’m all for celebrating revolutionary art, but this sort of work is, by definition, the extreme exception. A hundred thousand revolutions doesn’t do anybody any good.

As Ron mentions, the same in-flight magazine has a short interview with me about my favorite things in Minneapolis. The interviewer asked about my local dining habits. Knowing that countless people were going to read this interview, I wanted to say something really cool. But I’m not a foodie. I respect people who have a passion for fine cuisine, but it isn’t my thing. This doesn’t mean I eat at Burger King. I like good food, but I generally eat pretty simple food. In other words, I’m happy to know there are revolutionary French chefs working with liquid nitrogen, but I don’t necessarily need to eat it. And I most certainly don’t want to eat it every day.

So what do I want from my food? Along with it being nutritious, I’d like it to taste good. Isn’t entertainment in art pretty much the same thing?

6 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Kathrin Baumbach said, on August 3, 2012 at 10:32 am

    I do agree with most of what you said, but not all ‘good tasting food’ is in fact good for you. Same with art I would say. It might ‘taste good’ but some of it just doesn’t nurture as much as other does.

  2. Tom said, on August 3, 2012 at 12:19 pm

    Art is emotion. There’s no litmus test, algorithm or official list that can document, beyond all doubt, that the thing you are looking at is bona fide art. If it stirs some emotion in you — it’s art. If it doesn’t — it’s not.

    You can put me down as one of the Céline Dion haters. But the woman can consistently sell out a room in Vegas. So obviously a lot of people disagree with my assessment (and they may be surrounding my house carrying torches and pitchforks as I write this). It all depends on your perspective. There is no right or wrong answer. I don’t happen to care for Céline Dion but that doesn’t mean she isn’t a legitimate artist. I don’t like hip-hop music either. Frankly that worries me more than my dislike for Céline Dion. My parents never got rock ‘n roll — which, of course, forced me to permanently classify them as clueless idiots. Now there’s a whole genre of music that I simply don’t get. I fear I’m on the same runaway train holding the same one-way ticket to Old Fartville that my parents held years ago.

    Let’s not confuse “art” with the “art market.” There are clearly creative works, in many forms, that consistently achieve recognition as being outstanding examples of “art.” likewise there are individuals who are praised for having exceptional artistic talent. Does that prove anything? Markets fluctuate. Tastes change. Some works are considered masterpieces and endure for centuries. Some things get a lot of attention then the market shifts. Do works cease to be art if the market changes? Do the individuals who produce works cease to be artists if the market moves in another direction? Art is whatever you think it is. Whether it’s entertainment, revolution or doing the same thing over and over searching for perfection, if it moves someone it’s art.

  3. lucycarolan said, on August 3, 2012 at 1:43 pm

    I couldn’t help reading the Salman Rushdie quote and thinking it was a bit self congratulatory – I mean, one of his books made him the object of a fatwa. I’m not convinced that’s necessarily revolutionary (not least because most of the people he managed to annoy with The Satanic Verses will not have read it, and that seems a bit counterproductive to me if what you really hope for is that the actual substance of your work might have some influence, rather than its reputation), but it’s a tough one to top…

    Other than that, I’m not quite sure I’ve understood what you want to discuss. The difference between tasteful and tasty?

    P.S. I have no feelings about Celine Dion either way

  4. lucycarolan said, on August 4, 2012 at 5:27 am

    I’ve just read this para about the Edinburgh Internation Film Festival on the Frieze blog:

    “Cinema here transcended sheer entertainment. When I spoke with [festival director Chris] Fujiwara previously he agreed on those three pillars of the BBC: ‘Educate, inform and entertain are exactly our ambitions. I think the idea of entertainment tends to limit people. This is what we try to get away from […] If you approach the film from the point of view “all I want is to be entertained” […] then alright you pay your money you have the experience of that and then it’s over. I think putting it in the category of entertainment is closing it off, saying it doesn’t have any real relevance to me. It’s not going to change my life, the way I think about love, the way I think about politics, the way I think about family. The role of the festival is to create opportunities for people to look at films in ways that could change their lives.’”

    So, people can tend to be quite disparaging about the value of entertainment. The BBC’s approach seems to be more balanced though. Can anyone successfully educate and inform without also entertaining?

  5. Al Saulso said, on August 4, 2012 at 6:34 pm


  6. blake andrews said, on August 5, 2012 at 2:50 pm

    I haven’t read Wilson’s book but just based on personal experience I have a very hard time enjoying Celine Dione’s music. Maybe this is due to hipster bias. Not sure. I like to think it’s because her music is just plain bad, but of course there’s no way to measure this. I think the same aesthetic differences and personal biases exist in the photo world, with similar difficulties sorting through them. The easiest way to cut through them all and come to some clear decision point is simply to put a Celine Dione CD on the stereo and listen for as is bearable. When you’re forced finally to push “stop”, you will have reached a clear moment of truth.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: