The Not So Good, Part 2

The Not So Good, Part 1 can be found here

None of this is intended as a condemnation of particular artists. Bob Denver (Gilligan) absolutely made people laugh. I fondly remember watching him on The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis and Dusty’s Trail, as well as the infamous isle- not in the original broadcasts of Dobie or GI. However, I don’t particularly want to go back and see if the reality matches my memory.

Apparently, I am nudging up against a theory of artistic mediocrity, which sounds harsher than intended. I do mean the term in the strict sense of something that is of moderate quality. I sincerely believe that work combined with inspiration produces art of some merit. That art may need to be judged based on a wide variety of criteria while also taking into account many, many circumstances, but that magic chemistry of intentional effort with an artistic goal is the recipe for magic. It is why parents see beauty in a child’s finger-paints. They don’t need you or me to tell them that it is mediocre art. That’s beside the point and also why we can all look at those blobs and feel something.

We ask so much of artists and we think that their efforts amount to so little effort on their part that we become inundated with a great deal that is poor. Audiences expect new art to appear as easily as water from a faucet. The idea is so widespread that artists expect no less of themselves. Consider that John Lennon and Paul McCartney appear to have an average of two songs composed per month during the Beatles recording career. The consensus is that they were rather good at the task, even if your only criteria was the fact that they wrote stuff that could be recorded and sold. Still, there were two of them, so it’s kind of like one person writing one song every month, isn’t it? And how long does it take to come up with “yeah, yeah, yeah”?

Pablo Picasso was extremely prolific, creating over 17,000 works, from big pieces to sketches. He lived to be 92, so we could say that he had 75 productive years. Let’s say that works out to 230 works every year. Couldn’t he make a sketch before breakfast and call it a day? Also, if he was one of the most productive, what are all the others doing with their spare time?

No person with the slightest knowledge of artistic work believes that Lennon, McCartney or Picasso were slackers. And we have television show runners, actors, fashion designers, and all the rest regularly profiled so we should appreciate the effort involved in their respective lives.

And then we go to their performance or their fashion show or their gallery opening and we shrug. It’s inevitable that we will not like everything. Arguably, a billion people on the planet have that reaction to the entire catalog of Beatles music, which would mean that they still have a remarkable relationship with the vast majority of the planet. Heck, as an artist, the vast minority of the planet could be the extent of your popularity and that might still equal a billion people.

Naturally, one audience member may enjoy a particular work while others find it boring. Initial reactions are always in the moment. The later reflection on the experience is what interests me here. Any art consumed beyond the level of background noise is probably not mediocre in the eyes of the beholder. We disdain and relinquish the dull. The problem is those revisits. You’ve bragged to someone about how this thing is simply fantastic and you can see in their eyes as they silently judge you. Sure, it could be them. After all, that silent judgement is not a one way street. But it is difficult not to wonder if it is not something about this piece that you have loved before.

I’ve been ignorant and ill-informed in liking some art. That doesn’t make me sad. It just means that I won’t be appreciating the same things anymore. It also does not mean that the art was better than it was and that I have become too much of a pedant. Collected experience makes us all different when we revisit past loves. The music of certain bands in my youth was truly not worthy of the ages, no matter how fondly recalled or how many replays received on Sirius.

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