Richardson explicitly states in his essay “the first thing to be done in order to become a good Connoisseur one’s self, is to avoid prejudices, and false reasoning,” (17). But what is reasoning except for prejudiced opinions, often supported by evidence in a way that is suited to fit one’s ideas? One may think about something in a completely different way than another, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re thinking unreasonably. They’re just reasoning differently. Our justifications and logical understandings are all informed by our own, individual experiences.
Richardson claims that “We must consider ourselves as Rational Beings at large, no matter of what Age, or of what Country, nor even of what Part of the Universe we are Inhabitants, “ (17). This idea of throwing off our predispositions (whether they be imposed upon us by age, culture, location, etc.) may be ideal, but probably impossible. But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially when dealing with the affective nature of art. Many forms of art depend on the manipulation of personal beliefs or cultural connotations in order to create an effect within the spectator.
Some manipulations prove to be rather cathartic, allowing us to feel joy, loss, or horror without having to deal with any “real” repercussions. I feel what’s more important is to be aware of art’s potential to play off of our prejudices, versus Richardson’s arrogant condemnation of it. If we’re aware of art’s capacity to affect the spectator in such a way, then we’re also aware of how this capacity can be mobilized to create specific societal effects. For instance, look at how propaganda films play off of people’s nationalistic and patriotic prejudices to promote certain causes or ideas…
Richardson seemed to think it was relatively possible to leave prejudice out of the artistic experience, but I disagree. Nor should it be possible. That’s the beauty of it. I agree with Richardson insofar as I don’t think we should let the opinions of others dictate our own when it comes to interpretation. However, I disagree with his statement that “neither must our own Passions, or Interest be allow’d to give the least Byas to our judgments when we are upon a Rational Enquiry,” (17). Perhaps that may be true about some things, but not art. We shouldn’t let these passions and interests dictate whether or not we experience a piece. But I also don’t think we should exclude them from our actual experience of it. Otherwise, how are we to be affected by it? It’s our passions and interests that allow art to affect us in so many subjective ways.
I don’t think it would be possible to experience, or even create art without prejudice. In the same way our beliefs are integrated in societal structures, I believe art is as well. It builds off of itself. Certain artists build off of (or break) the techniques of those who came before them. That doesn’t necessarily mean that their creations are “bad.” But in some way, they’re prejudiced. They’re based on preexisting conditions. When it comes to my own interpretation of pieces, I doubt Richardson would agree with the way in which I derive, or impose, meaning.
One particular piece that speaks to me is one of my all-time favorite comfort movies: Little Women. I could watch this film on repeat, each time never failing to fall into it. I suppose it’s not considered “one of the classics,” nor is it anything super-innovative in terms of content, structure or style. And yet, it still affects me. I grew up watching the film with my family, allowing its lessons and characters to transform my everyday life. I suppose then it’s the content that speaks to me. I couldn’t tell you who directed it, nor have I ever read a single review of it. Perhaps Richardson might be pleased with how I’ve come up with my opinions of it on my own?
And yet, my interpretation of the film is still not free from prejudice. Probably because it’s an interpretation. Besides for the content, what really comforts me about the film are my associations of it with memories from my childhood and the comforts of my family. All of these are exterior experiences that Richardson may classify as passions or interests. I care for the film less because of its intrinsic qualities and more because of my experience of it, which is informed by past and present prejudices. Perhaps I may not be a true connoisseur of the film, according to Richardson, but I’m still affected by it in my own way. And if becoming a connoisseur means having to throw away the experiences I associate with the film in order to appreciate it “reasonably,” then I find myself content to be a simple admirer.
However, another film that challenges my desire to interpret (or impose order on disorder) is Chris Marker’s San Soleil. Ugh. I’ve never been more frustrated. The film is a repetition of fast-paced images and foreign languages. The images and audio are juxtaposed so quickly that it’s nearly impossible to find connections between the fragmented pieces. I’m told that the film is meant to “mirror the ephemeral nature of memory.” I suppose that makes sense. But Richardson probably wouldn’t agree with my acceptance of this belief. I didn’t come up with it myself, after all. But what I do know is that, through the intrinsic qualities of the film (a.k.a. it’s lack of narrative structure and frustratingly fast-paced montage of unrelated and often jarring images), I got angry. This doesn’t mean that the film is bad. Nor does it mean that it’s good. I’m just saying I was pissed that I couldn’t hold onto these moments for longer periods of time in order to find, or perhaps impose, meaning. Maybe that’s the point? My inability to structure the film in a way that creates a specific meaning reveals my desire to do so. It invokes the recognition that I enjoy using prejudices to impose significance on these images. Richardson might not agree with this human inclination, but I think he would most likely praise the film for touching upon this desire.
Although a complete escape from prejudice may be impossible when it comes to interpreting art, I believe that it’s important to recognize the effects that prejudice has on the artistic experience. It’s what makes art affective, and a potential tool for the mobilization of populations. But that view is from a detached perspective. All in all, I admit I enjoy my artistic prejudices because I like the way they make me feel…oh, judge me, Richardson.