When it comes to opinions on art, I guess you could say I appreciate a contrarian.
As for myself, I rarely have strong feelings about art. I sort of like it all. My tastes are broad and ill-defined and I’m pretty willing to enjoy anything on its merits.
Yet, I like playing the role of contrarian, if only to needle the idolatrous.
I bristle when artists attract a cult-like following that exalts every painting, every lyric, every snatch of prose as “ground-breaking,” “innovating” or “never before seen.” Rarely is that the case.
I’m of the general opinion that most original ideas have been taken. Most likely, the premise for the New York Times’ next bestselling novel has already been covered by the Native Americans, Sima Qian, Shakespeare or Tolstoy. If they didn’t write about it, then it probably went straight to DVD.
But fans of Christopher Nolan or Bob Dylan -- just two of the agreed-upon geniuses of today’s arts milieu -- will insist, even demand, that you recognize their artist as an unparalleled genius. Or else.
In late July, the Rotten Tomatoes website shut down commentary on “The Dark Knight Rises” movie page after one commenter posted a (GASP!) negative review. The reviewer received hate mail and death treats to such a voluminous degree that Rotten Tomatoes pulled the plug.
In the fall of 2011, Bob Dylan was embroiled in accusations of plagiarism when it was discovered his paintings for an exhibit at a gallery in New York were largely lifted from existing photographs. When I argued that the act did, in my estimation, constitute plagiarism, I was rudely handled by those who refused to believe the Great Poet was capable of such falsity.
In my mind, it’s good to keep an objective view of the things we revere, and loathe. And to that end, I occasionally peruse the one-star reviews on Amazon.com for some of my favorite books.
In commenting about “Hiroshima” (John Hersey’s sparsely narrated account of six atomic bomb survivors, originally published to wide acclaim in a 1946 issue of The New Yorker), a teacher/reviewer wrote: “Three successive classes have all proclaimed it the most ‘boring’ book they have ever been asked to read for English. This review is more for teachers pondering using it as a study text. Don’t! Your students will thank you for it.”
In commenting about “Confederacy of Dunces” (John Kennedy Tool’s uproarious novel about an idiosyncratic and delusional son of the South), one reviewer wrote bluntly: “What I consider stupidity and childishness is now accepted as funny. If you want hilarious, read ‘The Canterbury Tales.’ This book is, simply, stupid.”
The funny thing is, the reviewers are kind of right on both accounts.
Though I love both works, Hersey’s story is dry, moribund and exceptionally unemotional. For many like myself, that’s part of the allure. But it’s still true.
And ‘Confederacy’ is stupid. Delightfully so. Unapologetically so. Award-winningly so. But anything that relies on ornery pyloric valves, Medieval philosophy and heavy breathing for comedy is also relying on a certain amount of stupid.
And that’s OK. We can’t all be Shakespeare.