Attempting to Look at Art With an Open Mind

Is it possible to view and experience art without prejudice? Is it possible to view and experience anything without prejudice? I say “hell no!” As living and coherent creatures we must hold on to our previous experiences and what we know from them to continue living. If the slate of our mind was wiped clean of of all prejudice there would be nothing left with which to make “perceptions.” (The use of the word prejudice in this context is synonymous with the the word preconception.) The idea of experiencing (art as it exists presently) could not exist without the “experiencer” having brought no preconceptions to the table. All of this being said, I do believe that in order to appreciate something, especially a piece of art, one must attempt to digest that something with an “open mind.” In opening of his first discourse “An Essay on the Art of Criticism” Richardson writes:

We are pushed on by our wills, excited by the determination of our understandings upon a view of the present set of ideas; but these changing perpetually from the impression made upon our senses by external objects from the nature… (Discourse I, p.1).

Using these words of Richardson as evidence, I feel that even though Richardson later speaks of “letting go of prejudices” to experience art, he does not expect a connoisseur to let go of all prejudices. He notes the ever-changing environment as it relates to our present understanding. In theory, if the change in environment should be followed by a change in perception, and if this is true then prejudices should be challenged continuously. I don’t think that Richardson would detest using  past experiences to understand art, but I do believe that he would detest letting prejudices completely dictate one’s view of art.

Keeping in mind Richardson’s ideas, I chose two videos of musical performances. I consider one of the performances to be great, but the other irks me. I’ll start with the good one…

Alright, so I’ve probably watched this video 1,000 times without getting tired of it. I don’t have a special connection to the original song by Dolly Parton, other than thinking it is a good song, but the whole performance here speaks to me. I have loved Jack White’s music since I found a couple of White Stripes albums in a box of burned C.D.’s when I was in middle school. I have a nostalgic connection to this music, and I know that the some of the emotions I feel when watching the performance are connected to things I have experienced. I think that Richardson would disagree with me calling the song “good” simply because I have connections to it, but I think its a quality piece of art for more reasons than “just because it makes me happy.”  Both artists show talent and mastery of a craft. The interpretation of the song is unique…and it’s just especially badass.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ioeJXcefy8Y

This performance irks me. First of all, I hate the lyrics. I admittedly can’t stand the lyrics because of prejudices against the content. Richardson would frown upon this. I have a hard time viewing the song objectively because of the lyrics, but looking at it musically I don’t see anything special. The back-up singers and musicians are doing their thing with skill, but the “main attraction” isn’t especially talented in my book. Her vocal range isn’t especially great, and her voice isn’t strong. By trying to have an open mind about the song, despite its content, I was able to fashion a stronger critique than “I just hate it.” I feel like qualitative critiques made while attempting to rid oneself of prejudices would be cool with Richardson.

 

Richardson’s Discourses

I:https://engl382fall2013.files.wordpress.com/2013/11/richardson-two-discourses-i.pdf

II: https://engl382fall2013.files.wordpress.com/2013/11/richardson-two-discourses-ii.pdf

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2 thoughts on “Attempting to Look at Art With an Open Mind

  1. I like how you acknowledge the fact that it really might be impossible to view art without prejudice. You also look pretty deeply into Richardson’s writings when you say:

    “even though Richardson later speaks of “letting go of prejudices” to experience art, he does not expect a connoisseur to let go of all prejudices. He notes the ever-changing environment as it relates to our present understanding. In theory, if the change in environment should be followed by a change in perception, and if this is true then prejudices should be challenged continuously. I don’t think that Richardson would detest using past experiences to understand art, but I do believe that he would detest letting prejudices completely dictate one’s view of art.”

    I think your strongest example is when you say that part of the reason that you love the White Stripes is because of your nostalgic tie to the band. In this sense, you REALLY prove that art should not be viewed without our personal experiences in mind — because in some cases, our prejudices are a large part of what allows us to love music so much. Why take that away? I think you hit the nail on the head when you said Richardson might have just been suggesting we shouldn’t let our prejudices COMPLETELY dictate our view of art.

    Grade: S

  2. You write: “If the slate of our mind was wiped clean of of all prejudice there would be nothing left with which to make “perceptions.” (The use of the word prejudice in this context is synonymous with the the word preconception.) The idea of experiencing (art as it exists presently) could not exist without the “experiencer” having brought no preconceptions to the table. ”

    Once again, you have reminded me that we should have read works by the philosopher David Hume. A century after Descartes, he strongly questioned the idea of the true individual self. He believed that what we think of as our “real” selves was a fiction, a kind of life-story people use to tie together otherwise disconnected memories. He also believed that people could set aside their prejudices, at least if they trained themselves to do so: see his classic essay, “Of the Standard of Taste.”

    The ability to set aside prejudice is, Hume argued, one of the most important characteristics for a true critic.

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