February 11, 2018

Who decides what is important?

Let me get it out of the way. I may well be an uncouth, uncultured, redneck from a backwater, flyover state. Guilty, guilty, maybe, and yes. Despite these serious cultural deficiencies I am not necessarily uneducated. My Alma Matter is consistently ranked fairly high in the various rankings published every year of colleges and universities. In addition, I have always read -- a lot. If you take the various lists of 100 books you should read, I have read most of them, including War and Peace.

To the meat of the matter: Catch-22 is drivel; unreadable schmaltz. So is From Here to Eternity. In fact, many of the so-called classics are crap, Moby Dick first and foremost. Joyce, Cervantes, and Milton all are impossible to read. Hawthorne I can manage, but why would I want to? Bunyan, blah. I will take bawdy Moll Flanders over The Vicar of Wakefield any day.

I just finished reading Pearl S. Buck's The Good Earth. I read an abbreviated version in a compendium of Readers Digest condensed books as a kid. I liked it better forty-five years ago. I suppose the story is mildly compelling, but the writing is so-so. Certainly not Pulitzer-Prize worthy. But what do I know? I will take The Sand Pebbles if I want a picture of China in the early 20th Century.

In honesty, I want to be entertained in my books, my movies, and my art. Do you want to teach creative writing? See how Louis L'Amour or Heinlein structured a book. It may be pulp, but those guys could write and tell a story. Are you looking for dark humor? Twain was a master. Patrick O'Brien painted in words. You shouldn't have to slog through a book or movie before it can be "art". Forcing a kid to suffer through The Scarlet Letter is a sure way to make any teenager hate reading. Is that really the point of English Lit? Don't even get me started on how they teach history.

I don't want to go to a museum and study blotches on canvass, wondering if there was intent or an accidental spill. I'll take Hopper over Picasso any day. My writing is not good. If you were to read my notebook of efforts, you will see I strive to capture a moment in time. I like my art the same way. I want to say "What happened next?" or "What just happened?". "Leave 'em wanting more" should be the goal of any book, movie, photograph, or painting.

Art can best be defined by the Popeye Proviso: the Sailorman claimed "I yam what I yam", I know what I like, and that is art to me. L'Amour westerns and Elvis movies are not deep. They don't make you think. But they add amusement and color to our lives. Isn't that the point of art after all?

Some art museum in England took down a painting so that we could think about women in art in a non-binary way, or something. I don't want you to tell me how to think about art. I just want to enjoy it or not.

If I wonder why I should care about Why the Caged Bird Sings, it is OK. Some prefer Faulkner over Hemmingway or Fitzgerald over Forrester.

I wonder how many people who tout Proust as a genius ever tried to read his work? How many finished it? That my friends, is the point of this post. Do not let anyone tell you what to like or what is good.

I know, TLDR


Ed Bonderenka said...

Have you read Boenhoffer by Metaxas?
Historical, biographical, and I find the writing to be purty good.
I'm halfway through it.

Anonymous said...

I find it interesting the conflict between education and experience. It seems some people believe that higher education is the end game, not the beginning of learning. I learned a long time ago other than math and science almost everthing else is someone's opinion, and I am not so sure of science. Then again I am just an old guy who has been around the world , what the hell do I know. The older I get the more I learn what I believed when I was young is not really the whole truth.

James Old Guy

Joe said...

I will have to check into that one, Ed.

As usual JOG says in a few sentences what I try to say in an entire post

Fuzzy Curmudgeon said...

The professor from whom I took Japanese History (Medieval and Modern) and American Diplomatic History told me (well, and the rest of the class) many years ago that The Good Earth was a load of drivel written by someone who didn't know what the hell she was writing about.

He also highly recommended The Sand Pebbles.

Joe said...

Buck spent 40 years in China but I’ve always felt she never spent any time with real Chinese

Fuzzy Curmudgeon said...

That’s what my prof said.

Practical Parsimony said...

I agree you should never let anyone tell you what is good, but it seems that is exactly what you did. It is all a matter of taste, SOMETIMES. I think your taste runs counter to mine.

Joe said...

PP isn't it obvious? Critics offer opinion, while I provide facts. If your tastes are different, then you must be wrong! I am the arbiter of taste and all things good and proper, everyone knows that.


Joe said...

I actually started out to write a post explaining why MASH was far superior to the other 1970 anti-war movie Catch-22. As often happens, I got off track.

Jean said...

Unfortunately, schools aren't good for nurturing individuality.
That would make their jobs difficult and their re-used lesson plans obsolete.

Practical Parsimony said...

Joe, you are funny!

hey teacher. said...

Picasso made a lot of crap, but he made lots AND lots of art. With quantity, usually quality suffers. Jackson Pollock’s drip painting are sublime, in my opinion, but there is also only a small amount of them. Not all of Hopper’s paintings are as strong as Automat or New York Movie but there is a bunch of good ones and not all of Norman Rockwell’s paintings are sappy one liners. I feel the more variety you expose yourself to the more likely you might just get surprised into liking something new. But I’m just an indoctrinating, asshole, public school teacher, what the ¥£€~ do I know.

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