Monday, July 25, 2005

Mona Lisa at the Family Circus

Couple of things I got to thinking about reading Kasey's latest. First, I'm not sure there is such a thing as "neutral eclecticism". In any case, what he describes as such (liking banana splits AND creme brulees) seems just to be a matter of liking different instances of things in the same category. In order for one's tastes to be eclectic there must be tension in the things one likes. There must be a puzzle to solve.

I think "bland eclecticism" is well-captured by the slogan, "hey, whattaya want, I'm eclectic," which (normally) indicates a sensibility that is various in its tastes only because it isn't discerning. It doesn't take the problem of reconciling tastes seriously.

But I'm not sure that hot eclectism should be understood mainly (or even at all) in terms of the ability "cogently to theorize the dissonance" between tastes. I think hotly eclectic tastes must be immanent to a collection of "aesthetic predilections". Indeed, a cogent rationale risks centring one's tastes to a single source of judgment, showing that one isn't really eclectic at all. This is basically a Wittgensteinian or Poundian argument against summarizing anything as important as this in a theoretical generalization, cogent or otherwise. If someone wants to account for thinking of both the Mona Lisa and a panel from the Family Circus as art, even as good or interesting art, then no amount of argument will do. Either the person will have no sense of what art is or she will have a set of further predilections that in and of themselves indicate the artistry of Bil Keane (which I imagine is where the splaining must be done).

Someone who likes a poem of Ron Silliman's and one of Billy Collins' has either selected these poems very carefully along with the rest of the work she likes (making her possibly hotly eclectic and possibly not eclectic at all) or has not read very much poetry very carefully (making her blandly eclectic). But we can only decide which is the case by asking her to flesh out the list of poems she likes beyond the two that puzzle us.

Finally, Kasey's remarks on the relational qualities of art got me thinking about the museum and newspaper contexts, i.e., the medium in which the work is presented. I imagine the Mona Lisa works (as art) in the Louvre (though I also imagine that context to be a real trial for its aesthetic value) just as the Family Circus works (though it too can be a trying experience) in a newspaper (as entertainment). The trick is to think of a way of contextualizing the relevant panel from the Family Circus successfully in a museum. That would make it art, though much of the credit would go the artist/curator. Likewise, it is difficult to imagine that printing the Mona Lisa in a newspaper would yield an interesting aesthetic experience (in the ordinary newspaper reader). But it often proves to be "entertaining" (divertente) in the "arts and culture section" sort of way, which is by no means to da Vinci's credit.

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