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For Me, Art is All About a Feeling

I am an English major. In my fun degree, that is. If money was no object I would happily study the liberal arts for the rest of my life, maybe do a spot of volunteer work in my more serious profession for a bit of a lark and to feel like I was 'contributing' to society. The point is, if there's anyone that can rip a piece of art limb from limb, expertly dissecting its themes, plot structure, and underlying message and wrapping that up in a neat, succinct bundle of words called an essay, it's me.

Don't get me wrong, I rather enjoy the fact that when I watch a movie or (relatively, for me at least, lover of all things trashtastic) high brow television program, or read a Book, or listen to music even, I can identify central themes, and devices that have been used to promote said themes. This enjoyment probably comes from the fact that, at heart, I'm a bit of an artsy wanker who enjoys being able to point something out knowingly. Or reference it at a later stage in conversation when trying to impress an equally artsy, wankery man. Or just amongst my friends, who would probably look at me and call me a wanker, or join in, because they too are wankers. 

Anyway, all this talk of artsy wankery has got me a little off topic. The point is, I appreciate the fact that I am able to see the Technical side of art. But, at the same time, I think that the technical side of art is not the part that really matters at the end of the day. Clive James summed it up really well in his absolutely epic collection of essays called Cultural Amnesia (if you have a spare year of your life and the ability to sit still and read very dense language about incredibly interesting subject matter, but also the humility to recognise that Mr. James is a genius, and that you will never be as brilliant as he, and that is why much of the book will go completely over your head and all you can hope for is that some of the brilliance will rub off onto you in the guise of a remembered fact or quote then, by all means, read this book):

'Art proves its value by still mattering to people who have been deprived of every other freedom: indeed instead of mattering less, it matters more.'

Couldn't have said it better myself. Don't ask me for a page reference for this beautiful little snippet, I have no such details.

My point in using that quote is to illustrate the main thrust of my argument (spoken like a true English major, albeit one whose referencing skills clearly need a brush up), which is that whilst the technicality of art is no doubt important, what really matters, at the end of the day, is the way that art makes you FEEL. I am sure that the people of whom Mr. James speaks do not appreciate art purely because of all its technical glory. They are appreciating art in a time in their lives which is difficult or downright horrific because of the joy that it brings to them. Listening to music simply because it is uplifting. Watching film because of the beautiful shots used to tell a wonderful story. Reading a book because of its ability to transport you to another place and time through language. A beautiful piece of art brings you hope for a better life in a way that nothing else can. The fact that humanity is able to create such beauty is, to me at least, indicative of the fact that we are capable of compassion and kindness and, ultimately, love. People will keep doing horrible things to each other, of this there can be no doubt, but as long as we have art there will be hope for better things to come. That is what true art means to me. 

I once argued at school that the dissection of poetry line by line was a pointless exercise, because I highly doubted that poets sat there and thought through every tiny technical aspect of a poem before writing it. I was probably wrong about this, poets probably are very technical beings who consider all of those issues as they write, but I like to think of poets as passionately artistic beings who are unfettered by convention or technicality. I hated poetry for a long time, possibly because of the times in school and university that I was forced to break down what for me was essentially a work of art into tiny, seemingly insignificant chunks of information about meter. But I've come around to it the older I become. And that is because I no longer go into reading a poem thinking about the meter or the theme. I go into reading a poem purely for enjoyment, for the thrill that beautiful language can evoke in me.

The beautiful use of the English language is my opiate, creating a euphoria in me that is almost unparalleled by anything else. I'm getting a bit quote happy in this post, but it is about art and literature, so it seems only right. Nick Hornby (one of my all time favourite authors, possibly because he writes with such precision about the kind of under-achieving, over-thinking, largely directionless men that I find myself attracted to time and again. Possibly also because I am the female version of said men. Definitely because he writes well), in his lovely ode to literature, The Polysyllabic Spree, spewed forth the following controversial gem:

'Books are, let's face it, better than everything else. If we played cultural Fantasy Boxing League, and made books go fifteen rounds in the ring against the best that any other art form had to offer, then books would win pretty much every time.'

I tend to agree with him, because I am a book nerd. But I also love music, and film and painting and sculpture. Books simply win, for me, because language is the way in which I find those things like love and hope, that are essential to humanity, are most beautifully conveyed. 

When I think about books that I have read, films that I have seen, pieces of art that I have observed, music that I have listened to, I primarily remember the way that they made me feel. Like the feeling of absolute amazement and joy that washed over me at the conclusion of Yann Martel's Life of Pi, the soft, languorous, but still thrilling warmth that arose in me as a result of Sophia Coppola's use of pastel colours and dreamy shots in Marie Antoinette, the brooding melancholy that seeped into my very soul whilst reading Wuthering Heights, the love and sensual energy that I could feel emanating from Picasso's painting of his wife, Olga in the Armchair, the way that Tim Burton made me feel like I was falling in love at first sight the moment that his hero in Big Fish first spies his wife at a circus and time, literally, stands still, even the way that the little references to things that are going to be of future importance to Ted's overall story in How I Met Your Mother make me feel slightly giddy. So if you ask me to tell you about the story of Pride & Prejudice, I'm likely to reference the playfulness of Lizzie, and Darcy's aristocratic stuffiness, rather than go into intricate detail about the ins and outs of the plot itself. If you ask me to describe the Smashing Pumpkins' music, I'll give you a genre, but then proceed to describe how I think that Billy Corgan's music is somewhat misunderstood, that he is not writing angsty, depressing songs, that he is actually writing love songs with angsty undertones, and how if you actually listen to some of the songs you can feel uplifted.

In short, I'm not the person to talk to if you want a technical breakdown of something, or if you want to discuss plot devices or themes. I'm all about the feeling. If you want to talk about that, I'm your woman. 

Yours in artsy wankery,

B. J. Barnes

This post first appeared on The Brilliance Of B. J. Barnes, please read the originial post: here

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For Me, Art is All About a Feeling


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