Opinions. We all have them.
In the absence of empirical truth, we generally feel comfortable with our opinions, and feel justified in expressing them.
I’m no exception. I can think of a handful of writers, all of whom are regarded as masters of their craft, whose work leaves me cold. Similarly, there are dozens of musical pieces, all standards in the classical repertoire, which make me want to scream, “Make it stop! Make it stop!” As for film, there are those directors whose aesthetic completely escapes me. I’ve sat through every new, critically acclaimed release of theirs ready to give them a fair viewing, only to come away with exactly the same reaction: “Why?” And do I even need to get into art? Please.
The reality is, some creative work will always resonate, trigger the viscerally positive reaction we crave, often for reasons we might never completely understand, and some will not. We will always love some works, yet not others. In fact, there might be those we will hate….
Months ago, I happened to mention a book I loved to a fellow bibliophile. He made a face, then proceeded to give it a critical shredding (some of which rested on a distaste for the characters), which left me feeling like a complete imbecile. Correction: an imbecile with no taste. I shouldn’t have felt insulted, but I did.
Some time before that, I became engaged in a discussion with a young woman about a particular director’s work. Every time I began to explain why I disliked the films, she interrupted, enumerating all the ways my opinion was wrong. As her argument heated, I understood it was more than a defense of the director’s work; it was an attempt to defend herself.
At that point, I stopped her, “Look. I’m not claiming the work has no artistic value, no worth. I’m just telling you it’s not for me.”
“Oh,” she looked at me, a bit startled. “Then it’s just an opinion.”
I said, “Exactly.”
And she smiled, “I guess that’s okay then.”
I’m always a bit amazed (although I shouldn’t be at my age) by how fragile our egos can be, how heavily invested they are in our critical faculties, and how easily they can be bruised. I suppose the more literate and educated we are, the more we pride ourselves in being able to view creative work objectively, and distinguish what is brilliant from what is commonplace.
But can we truly divorce ourselves from our tastes?
I still recall a conversation with a well-known conductor after another conductor’s performance of a Wagner Prelude. When he asked me what I thought, I said, “Not much.”
He then wanted to know if my opinion of the music was influenced by Wagner’s politics—a natural question, since both of us are Jewish.
I shook my head, saying, “No. It’s his endless sequences. They bore me to tears.”
He nodded, and with a wink said, “I know what you mean. The only way to conduct Wagner is to the end of the piece. You can’t take your time.”
We both laughed, but I couldn’t help but wonder if a better paced interpretation would have made me like the music better. I tend to doubt it.
Sometimes opinions on writing, film, art, and music are not apt to be changed. We often hold fast to our tastes, what pleases, what displeases, and use our training to analyze the reasons for them.
I was going to say it would be nice if we could view differences in artistic taste with the same detachment as we view differences in culinary taste; but then I’m suddenly reminded of a recent disagreement I had with an acquaintance over oysters.
No detachment there. When I said I couldn’t stand them, she went into a tirade.
That’s when I walked away.
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