Cloudbusting

Imagine a fictional story straying from a memoir upon which it is based. Never happened before.

As George W. Bush once asked: “Is our film critics learning?”

*

‘I don’t understand this poem’

‘I never listen to classical music’

‘I don’t like this picture’

are common enough statements but not ones that tell us anything about books, painting, or music. They are statements that tell us something about the speaker. That should be obvious, but in fact, such statements are offered as criticisms of art, as evidence against, not least because the ignorant, the lazy, or the plain confused are not likely to want to admit themselves as such. We hear a lot about the arrogance of the artist but nothing about the arrogance of the audience. The audience, who have not done the work, who have not taken any risks, whose life and livelihood are not bound up at every moment with what they are making, who have given no thought to the medium or the method, will glance up, flick through, chatter over the opening chords, then snap their fingers and walk away like some monstrous Roman tyrant. This is not arrogance; of course, they can absorb in a few moments, and without an effort, the sum of the artist and the art.

Jeanette Winterson, “Art Objects,” in Art Objects: Essays on Ecstasy and Effrontery (New York, 1997), 13-14.

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