Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder

I've been thinking a lot lately about that old adage, "beauty is in the eye of the beholder."

For example, I really dislike the movie The Fifth Element. I could easily write a long essay on everything I think is wrong with it. If pressed, I would have a difficult time finding one redeeming quality about it (maybe the blue opera singer... she was kinda cool). Yet, for one of my dear friends, it is one of her top 10 favorite movies. What does she see, that I don't? How does this movie speak to her in a way that otherwise just escapes me? Conversely, my favorite movie of all-time is The Crow. Yet I'll be the first person to tell you that it's not an Oscar-caliber movie, that it can sometimes be cheesy and that it sometimes plays like one long music video. Even with knowing all its flaws, why does it still hold such a special place in my heart?

A while back, I wrote about popular songs that dealt with loss of a loved one. I found songs like "Tears in Heaven" by Eric Clapton or "Angel" by Sarah McLachlan to be beautiful songs in their own way, but I also felt like they were cliche hallmark cards that didn't speak truthfully about loss. They didn't strike me emotionally as did the song "Cancer" by My Chemical Romance. Is it because one song is better than another, technically? Is it the style of music? Speaking of styles of music, I can listen to some styles of rock music and be totally moved, while someone else can listen to it and hear "noise and screaming".

In yet another example, the book club I belong to decided to read one of my favorite books, Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. It's a book I've read over and over again, I love it so much. Yet several of the book club members found it incredibly depressing, a chore to get through and just not very good. How could something that is so cherished and dear to me, be such a pain for someone else to read?

I think the answer to this question is that beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder. More specifically, we all approach art through the lens of our own experiences. We may have all experienced being in love, or the loss of a loved one, but we all express it in different ways. So what may speak to one person’s heart, may not to another, yet both works may stand on their own merits. That's what is so beautiful about the arts: they are so varied in their ways of communicating and connecting to people. I try very hard to remember this, and to be open to experiencing other art that may not necessarily be my cup of tea. Even if it doesn't speak to me personally, I just might learn something, and I think it helps me to learn more about the person who recommended it to me.

Thank heavens for these differences of opinion! Imagine if we all agreed on what was good art? Life would be boring, and the discussions at my book club would be short and unnecessary. (A big "thanks" goes here to my book club, for forcing me to read outside of my comfort zone and expose myself to other genres of literature that I might not have picked up otherwise.) How about you? Do you have a favorite movie, or book, or type of music, that is near and dear to your heart, but that no one else seems to appreciate? Why do you think it connects to you, but not to others?


Laura said...

We were talking about this very thing last night on the way to our BBQ. When we turned on the car, the radio was blasting a classic rock station. Dan quickly turned it down and K said, "Whew! That made my ears hurt!" to which N said, "That was totally AWESOME!"

Dan and I started in to inform both children that they were experiencing a difference of "taste" and that there's no right vs wrong in taste, just different like all people are different. It was so funny to see their obviously very different personalities influence what type of music they prefer, even as young children.

My goal as their parent (and Dan too, awesome artist that he is!) will be to expose them to various genre in music, art, movies, politics, etc. to allow them to be able to discern what they like and why. Also they will be able to have a better understanding of the message being conveyed in the art they are observing and what artist is trying to accomplish.

Having a mother who is an artist probably opened my understanding of art as expression. It was wonderful to tour Parisian art galleries for years with her because we could appreciate varied art forms without saying "that's ugly", but rather "that's interesting" and really mean it.

Excellent post. I agree, the world would be boring and predictable if we all viewed life through art the same way.

WriterGirl316 said...

I think you've had a breakthrough here, Davina! I share your opinion on this. It is incredible to me how some movies/books/songs that are so precious to me can be cast off as average or mediocre by others. I think this is one of the best examples of individuality, and if we can get past the fact that not everybody appreciates what we do (which is sometimes hard), we will grow as people because we will learn to value differences of opinion. Taylor and I had a friendly debate last night about the movie "You've Got Mail," and the incident fits perfectly with your post. I love this movie, even though I know it's extraordinarily predictable. He thinks that it's predictability is strong enough to make it less of a good movie. We look for different elements in movies, some of which we cannot define. The fact that these things speak to us personally should, ideally, only increase their charm.

D.L. White said...

@Laura - You said, "...we could appreciate varied art forms without saying "that's ugly", but rather "that's interesting" and really mean it."

YES! YES! YES! I love it!

My dad exposed me to alot of different types of music, movies and books. I remember one time he bought a multi-disk retrospective of big band and swing music and spent the Saturday evenings listening to it. I asked him if he bought it because it was his favorite music, and he said, "No, I don't even like some of this music, but I wanted to know more about it." :)

@WriterGirl - People want different things out of movies. Some people want to be surprised by a unique story, while others want "variation within a theme." For example, I like fairy tales. Most fairy tales follow a similar pattern(theme). The joy comes, not in the predictability of the "happily ever after" but in seeing how an author finds variation within that theme. I think it's the same with some romantic comedies like "You've Got Mail." You know they're going to be together in the end. That's not the point. The fun is in the journey of getting there! :)

chandy said...

So you mean not everybody thinks The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas is a great movie? ;)

Sometimes it's hard for me to understand it when somebody doesn't like something that I love... but the world would be pretty boring if they did!