The Capacity To Appreciate Art

I believe that I have a great capacity to appreciate art. Not everybody can appreciate art. Of course, everyone can appreciate beauty to some degree but I’m talking about great art. I’m sure this won’t seem very egalitarian to anyone who is into social justice. But I am certain that some people are exceptional in their ability to appreciate art.

I also believe that what gives a person the capacity to appreciate great art is the same thing that allows artists to create great art. After all, you cannot create great art if you don’t have any feeling for it. I mean an intuition for what makes art something great. While being able to appreciate art is not the same thing as being able to create art, it is still essential. Creating art is often just a matter of making many choices with good judgment and taste.

While I can appreciate many art forms, I am perhaps unique in my ability to appreciate serious drama. I definitely don’t see many signs of people revering playwrights. There are very few playwright biographies written. Playwrights don’t enjoy a high degree of literary fame. Serious drama is a form of literature and while there are plenty of people into literature, they often neglect drama. To me drama has obvious appeal. But since it does not appeal to many people I must spell it out. Drama is always intelligible. You will never read an unintelligible play because it would never be performed or published. All published plays are intelligible pretty much without exception. It is easier to appreciate a form of literature when all the examples you can find are top notch. Consider how a lot of bad poetry eventually puts you off poetry. And there is no guarantee that a novel will be good. Most published plays are for plays that were performed and few plays run for more than two hours. That means reading a published play won’t take too much of your time. Novels on the other hand can run up to a thousand pages. A bad novel can waste a lot of your time and you will come to resent it. I have never read a bad play. Of course, I don’t work in the literary department of a theater. There are some advantages in not finding success in theater. It keeps you from having many bad experiences.

I am an inspiration junkie. I love to feel inspired. I am easily inspired. Being inspired by great art is a real rush. And of course, great artists were themselves inspired and created something as a consequence of it. I do nothing with my inspiration. I create nothing worthy of my inspiration. Why not, you wonder. Because you are responsible for what you put out into the world. Nobody should take the business of creating great art lightly. It can become a very heavy burden.

But I’m getting off track. The real purpose of this blog post was to consider the relationship between the person who has a high capacity to appreciate great art and the cultural institutions that are supposedly serving those who appreciate art. I’m not sure that most cultural institutions see themselves as obliged to cater to the real devotee. Most cultural institutions serve the general public and I suspect them of being egalitarian to a fault. The fault being that they don’t take care to appeal to the connoisseur. This can have serious consequences because when people value art to different degrees they also invest time and money to seeking out art to different degrees. For example, consider the recent trip I made to Dublin to attend the Dublin Theater Festival on a trip sponsored and arranged by the Irish Repertory Theater. Going to a foreign country is always a daunting prospect. Although I had planned on making Dublin my vacation destination, I was really dragging my feet. I had some dread of flying given all the delays and cancellations that have plagued air travelers. It was also a very expensive trip. You always have to justify spending a lot of money and going to a lot of trouble to travel. Not just anybody would chose to spend their vacation doing this. But it was an easy decision for me to make because it offered a chance to meet Marina Carr, one of the great tragedians of our age. Now I won’t gush over Marina Carr, but I do love tragedy. A great tragedy can really gut you. It helps you to feel really deep emotions and appreciate just how much the sorrows and misfortunes of the world really affect you.  While it is true that I have not suffered greatly, one must never diminish how you feel. It is often said that we live lives of quiet desperation but we never let ourselves feel it. Anyway, the point is that I appreciate what tragedy does and I value it enough to go to great lengths to have it. That is not to say I’m having tragedy at any cost, but that I can revere those who are the master of evoking a sense of great tragedy. If a loss is not felt as a great tragedy then in a sense you never really valued what was lost. It is the very measure of your capacity to appreciate whatever you find of value.

That should have been the end of this blog post but there is still one point I almost neglected. Why should cultural institutions give special attention to their patrons who may have a greater capacity to appreciate what they offer? Well, everyone wants to know that their efforts are appreciated. Artists don’t create beauty for an indifferent public. I don’t think any artist dreams of his work hanging in a museum to be gawked at by school tour groups. At least, that is not how they think of it. You imagine a sophisticated, well-dressed sort of man or woman pausing before a painting with a thoughtful look of his or her face, and only with a little sigh do they turn away. Finally, in terms of donations, few people are inclined to give money to a cultural institution. Cultural institutions are often taken for granted. To change that it is vital that a museum or theater should not take their most devoted patrons for granted. Instead they should give some recognition to the patrons with the greatest capacity to be inspired by what they offer. Without this the cultural institution remains a public institution with no special bond with any member of the public. If I am nothing special to you then you are nothing special to me. A public institution giving no special regard for anyone who comes through those doors in turn is given no special regard by even a great soul who may be moved by what he finds within.


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