I accused someone of being a snob the other day.
He was quite proud of the fact and turned it into an exercise in thinking for yourself. I applaud his self-esteem. In retrospect, we will simply agree to disagree. It’s funny, though, because I agree with him completely on one thing and then disagree with him on another. Whose opinion is right?
We argued over what defines art. He appreciated art, specifically the cinema. He deplored professional sports as a waste of time and energy. I argued his definition of sports as simply competition was shortsighted and that sports could indeed be considered art. Hence, the debate.
However, the question stuck with me. What is art?
Is a crucifix dipped in urine art? Is Handel’s Messiah art? Is Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey art? Are a bunch of Irish guys dancing on stage in unison art? I ask this because it seems many people take a clear-cut subjective view on what art is. It also appears that many people can’t define art, but they know it when they see it. Much like trying to define what’s pornographic, the observer makes the decision.
Can professional sports be considered art? If not, why is art only an expression of emotion and, gee, isn’t competition an expression of emotion in and of itself? If one sells their art are they “selling-out?” Is it now no longer an acceptable level of art? Has the artistic value of the piece been lessened because the creator wanted money for his or her hard work?
Does liking something that everyone else likes cheapen the artistic merit? Does the artistic value of the Beatles, arguably the greatest musical act of all time, diminish because I heard one of their songs in a car commercial? Is Paul McCartney no longer a musical icon because he’s hawking investments?
Are you a snob because you’d rather hear Beethoven over Chuck Berry? Is Top 40 music intrinsically bad just because it’s Top 40 music? Do you look down on the entertainment choices of the masses because they fail to meet your haughty expectations?
I’m conflicted. I’d rather hear a crunchy e-chord from a Les Paul than a hip hop beat aped from some obscure 70s dance track, but is rap music no less artistic in its execution?
I’m torn. The Godfather is one of my favorite movies of all time. And so is Star Wars. Is one less relevant because of the actors, script, director and accolades it received are considered “better” than the other? I’ll let you, gentle reader, decide which movie is “better.”
Does the medium make the difference? Is a novel better than a short story? Are comic books better than graphic novels? Is a movie less than the book it’s based on?
Are all critics be it music, art, movies or books simply failed creators who can’t abide their own shortcomings, so take it upon themselves to demonize, ridicule and generally look down upon what others find worthy? Are all critics snobs? Is it the job of a critic to tear down what is enjoyed by the masses simply because it is enjoyed by the masses? I just thought you had to have strong opinions.
Is it okay to be a snob? Is it okay to think of yourself better than others? Is the critic’s taste more equal than the festering mob outside the window?
I don’t have answers to many of these questions, yet they bother me.