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.
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.