Enjoyment of Art, especially movies

Enjoyment of Art, especially movies

This is a “how to” guide to enjoying art.  It actually extends to enjoying life.

The history of Western thought about art is dominated by admiration for order, coherence, clarity, subtlety, and an expansion of meaning via symbolism and metaphor.  This line of thinking can admire a Gainsborough and a Picasso even though the immediate appearances are very different.  Western thought says that enjoyment of art comes from an ever deeper knowledge about it and appreciation of coherent complexity.  Scattered or simply manipulative meanings are considered less enjoyable (unless someone wants to enjoy seeing how incoherence exists).

The point of these ideas is that a true and deep enjoyment only comes with knowledge and the more the knowledge, the deeper the enjoyment.  This is why the superficial in popular culture is put aside as “fluff” of no enduring value.  This line of thought is opposite to immediate visceral responses that stop at that level and to the superficial in the art and in the person apprehending the art.  The idea is that depth yields the greatest enjoyment and that knowledge is a form of enjoyment.  Instead of rigid rules, this is the real seat of evaluating and enjoying art.

Movies can be art.  But, what about the movies that are a mere thrill ride, purposively manipulative, and basically incoherent?  Can there be enjoyment in nonsense (that does not exist for nonsense purposes)?   Monty Python’s purposeful nonsense exists to make coherent sense, a proof that silly can be insightful, and it is a silly with meaning that extends via symbolism beyond the incoherent.  But can the movie audience “just let the movie wash over them” with no thoughtful consideration of it?  I admit I do not know how a sober person can experience anything without trying to make meaning of it;  this seems to be a hard-wired fact of the human brain.   Thus, if a person tries to let the movie “wash over him,” he must somehow disconnect his built-in search for order instead of chaos.  I am not sure a sober person can do that.*

However, that sober person may be unschooled and unaware of methods of appreciating the depth of experiences, movies or whatever.  This is why learning about art, and movies, is important because otherwise the person, even sober, simply misses the more profound that can be there in the art.  Profundity is not currently popular, but it is there where real enjoyment comes.  Profundity comes from a respect of coherence and an ability to explore symbolism, and that comes from study.  Study is the opposite of “washing over,” but it is real and really satisfying.  Try it sometime.

*Maybe a person in deep and successful meditation can do something like this, but, even then, they emerge from meditation without being able to articulate their deeper experience and are left with a feeling.  It is true that feelings are a kind of knowing, but their very personal nature mostly keeps them inside one person.  Enjoyment of a “pure” feeling, if such exists, surely is possible, but it remains personal and hardly can be communicated to others.


About Charles Henry Harpole

Retired college teacher of cinema studies and film-making. Film Dept/Program founder and administrator. Buddhist. Amateur "ham" radio operator, HS0ZCW. Prepper evaluator
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