April in Glenwood: Recognizing the subjectivity of art
Lately I’ve had a love-hate relationship with social media. Everyone has an opinion these days, and it seems they may figuratively explode if they don’t share it.
Especially when it comes to art.
By art, I don’t just mean the kind on canvas Bob Ross used to create on “The Joy of Painting.” He did have a magical way making little trees happy with a paintbrush. I’m talking the art spectrum that ranges from music performed during halftime of the Super Bowl all the way to adult coloring books. Art is as diverse as the five boroughs of New York City. Varying cultures, race, gender and life experiences come together to create a landscape as inspiring as any mountain landscape or David Bowie tribute by Lady Gaga. Ziggy Stardust can be found within many of us.
It used to be if people had critical opinions about art — important in appreciating all the spectrums — they were discussed in a civilized manner. Off-the-cuff comment threads on Facebook don’t exactly scream civilized to me. The old features editor in me remembers when opinion pieces were written for publication, with editors grammar- and fact-checking, providing a springboard for debate without name-calling and uncivil commentary.
Even letters to the editor are held to that standard.
Now people see something like a football half-time show that angers their belief system or a political spoof on “Saturday Night Live” that challenges their views, and they “break” the Internet. They go on long rants or share sarcastic Internet memes they may think are funny. Social media lights up with terrible, profane and sometimes even libelous status updates and tweets that cause a stir of emotions. Instead of debating with the control and formality that opinion and art sections in papers and magazines were once awarded, commentary is now a free-for-all.
People basically say whatever they think.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about freedom of speech. Writers like myself live for that stuff. Anyone with Internet access and a WordPress account can pen a blog. That doesn’t mean I want to write about politics — I personally believe I lack the education and experience in the political realm to provide my opinions. I mostly couldn’t handle the name-calling and frustration it causes me.
I’m of the thin-skinned variety of columnists.
Also, I once made an innocent comment about Sarah Palin when she was running alongside John McCain in his 2008 bid for president, and I received a pretty nasty email from a reader about it. He suggested I stick to the wit and avoid writing about politics.
I was mostly happy someone thought I was funny.
Of course I was offended someone was trying to restrict my own freedoms of what I could write or comment on, and was tempted to keep the Palin jokes going. But I would have done that out of spite, and I can’t live that way. Plus Tina Fey is much better in that role anyway.
I’ll leave it up to the true comedy professionals to handle the political satire.
I also rely on the experienced art critics of the world to best share their opinions on music, painting, sculpture, dance and any other type of art. There are many. Sure, I might not agree with their opinions. But I don’t need to fight it out on social media. I might comment that Lady Gaga rocks in most everything she does on a Facebook post that criticizes her weirdness.
I personally appreciate her individuality.
Or I’ll express my love for Masterpiece Theater programming on PBS, particularly “Downton Abbey” and “Call the Midwives.” And my appreciation of dance-offs. Because I think the ability to dance, especially in choreographed sequence, is highly underrated. I recommend taking a dance class just to see how difficult it can be. Especially in front of a huge crowd, in costume. Or heels.
Who am I to judge a singer based on one performance I saw on TV or one video of a stand-up comedy bit on YouTube? Or one painting or photograph hanging in a gallery? Art is a process. And, most importantly, art is subjective. Whether or not we like the final product, there’s a person and a soul behind the art. While a critical eye helps artists improve, they deserve more than people’s snarky commentary or rude opinions. Maybe we should put ourselves in the artists’ place, and understand from where the art derives. Think that through, and then maybe comment on social media. It usually comes from a highly personal space.
And we all know how that feels.
April E. Clark is her own worst critic when it comes to art. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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