Monday, April 21, 2008

Watching the Watchers: Gauging Audience Response - Program Notes:

It is also worth mentioning that even the most educated among us are
rarely able to articulate why we like or don't like a work or art.
Highly specialized languages have developed around criticism and
dramaturgy, not because these are pursuits exclusively practiced by
elites (though they sometimes are), but because it's so difficult to
put these thoughts and feelings into words.  I would also point out
that the objectives of a work of art are often counter to what most of
us have come to expect in a consumer society.  That is, our society is
built around the imperative to enjoy, and the merits of a thing, any
thing, are often judged on how well it fulfills that imperative.
There is nothing intrinsically wrong with enjoyment per se - I like
having a good time as much as anyone.  However, in order for a work of
art to be successful, it needs to pull as well as push - often, the
goal is to anger, disturb, or even to deliberately bore or tax the
audience, viewer, or listener in pursuit of some larger goal.  The
obvious response to this is the one we have heard throughout the
history of modern art - "it's pretentious bullshit," "my kid could
paint that," etc.  And yes, that is often the case.  However, even
work that enlightens or entertains often needs to mystify, or to defer
pleasure, in order to be successful.  Of course what we say we want is
the thrill, the laugh, the cheer, the beautiful sound or object, but
most often those moments need to be surrounded by something else, or
the experience is meaningless - art as a series of positive stimuli
that zaps our animal brains in a pleasing way, but offers little else.

2:45 PM