Do I know enough to like this?

Here I am linking to, and commenting on, Brian Olewnick’s blog, Just outside, and it isn’t to weigh in on his Vision Fest criticism.

He posts to recommend a couple of Korean music recordings, but does so with exceedingly prominent caveats. Actually the caveats take up more space than the recommendation.

I don’t know the first thing about traditional Korean music. Well, maybe I know a thing or two, but not very much and certainly not enough to even remotely tell whether a given performance is up to snuff.

I will say that I understand the urge to disqualify oneself before making an aesthetic judgement. If I say, “I like this,” then I open myself up for someone else to say, “but that stinks and you are an idiot.” If I say “I think I like this, but don’t really know enough to judge it,” then I am immune from any possible “you don’t know a kodo from a hole in the ground” comments.

So, if I report to some interested acquaintance that this music is “great”, it’s with the nagging knowledge that I’m basing this judgment entirely on my own history, my own superficial knowledge of the genre, not in any understanding of the music or culture from which it arose.

My own history is the only thing I can base any judgement on. If I don’t know the culture that produced a music, I can still enjoy the music, and there is no need for me to feel guilty for enjoying it without proper pedigree, or even recommending it without having completed my “Korean music for white guys” course.

Why do we feel that we need to be qualified to make a personal value judgement on art. If the art moves us, then it is good, at least to us. I have heard very spirited and very technically sloppy musical performances that were great, because of their spirit and soul, not because of the performers perfected skills. The whole New Orleans brass band industry survives on this theory (and much of the rest of the scene too).

This idea that we need to “understand” art to enjoy it properly is very dangerous. It is the perpetuation of this idea that keeps busy folks from the suburbs from discovering lots of great music and art. They are afraid that they will be called out as frauds because they haven’t done their time in the study hall of Bird, or Braxton, or whoever, when in reality those who desire to put up the walls of qualification are often the most fraudulent in terms of actually getting the real spiritual connection of the art.

I challenge us all to explore something we know nothing about, and go into it with open eyes and ears. Let the spirit of the creation get into you, and don’t be afraid to like it, even if you have no idea where it comes from or how it is made. Don’t worry about whether or not the insiders think it is up to snuff, just enjoy it, or don’t enjoy it, but know that your own taste qualifies you to make that judgement for yourself.

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2 thoughts on “Do I know enough to like this?

  1. Hi Jeff,

    (google alerts rule!)

    Just to clarify, I’d distinguish between my enjoyment of (in this instance) Korean sanjo music and my espousal of these particular recordings as fine examples thereof. There’s no question I love ’em and love ’em greatly, no problem there. I’m just very hesitant in “putting them out there” as exemplars of the genre. They may well be (and if I had to bet, I’d bet on it) but I think it’s at least prudent for someone with my degree of knowledge about the subject (relatively nil) to give reasonable consideration to the possibility that I could be all wet. If so, I may still enjoy these recordings but perhaps other (“better”, however one may define the term) examples will provide even greater enjoyment.

    Humility in all things, at least in stuff I’m pretty much clueless about! Now, Braxton, I know damn well and won’t hesitate….

  2. I see your point, but the fact that you love them can be enough, I think. I have some idea of your taste from reading your writing, so I can form an informed idea from that.

    My real point is that I don’t think it is in the best interest of the arts to make people feel like they need qualifications to check stuff out. That’s not really what you were implying, it’s just the thought path your post took me down.

    As for the google alerts, I wish that blogger had trackbacks, so you wouldn’t need the google alerts to tell you what I was saying about your post, but google giveth and google taketh away.

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