Saturday, March 17, 2007

Taste is something you can work at

Art is something you know when you see it, but culture tells you which reproduction to hang over the couch. Does the house cry out for a piece from the Ashcan school, the talented if somewhat morose city-life realists who worked after the turn of the last century and whose ranks included Edward Hopper?
In the master bedroom, with its Mediterranean bedstead, wouldn’t Diego Velázquez be in order, perhaps Los Borrachos (The Feast of Bacchus), or The Supper at Emmaus by Caravaggio if you want to tone things down a bit? I’d avoid the royal portraits unless you have an unusually large foyer. Kandinsky pretty much goes with any décor, but Picasso’s Blue Period in the powder room has been done to death. And don’t even think about a Calder unless you own the air space.
Although culture started as an opportunity for the wealthy to prove that money can’t buy taste, the franchise has been extended now that pop culture has its own department; maybe Keith Haring and Michelangelo had more in common than meets the eye (Haring did not design siege weapons on the side). I think that we all can agree that manga (Japanese for comics and/or cartoons) and illustrated manuscripts were cut from the same cloth. The good thing about popular culture is that there’s little to read. The bad thing about it is that it’s popular and, therefore, inescapable.
Aesthetics. There, I’ve said it, and I’m glad. Keats wrote, “Beauty is truth, truth beauty,” so we’ll find little guidance there, but taste is something you can work at. Start with the curtains and don’t stop there. Take an adult education course—maybe they’ll have nude models. Visit a museum other than one that preserves Indiana high school basketball jerseys or Studebakers (although the one in South Bend is not to be missed the next time you’re there to cheer on the Irish—hey, it’s all culture).
Find a gallery, pick a period you feel comfortable with—for me it would have to be the Expressionists, Otto Müller in particular because I feel like his subjects look—and immerse yourself. Start to dress like a character in early Nabokov (maybe not Humbert Humbert) after first reading all of Nabokov, including his essays, and get back to me.
You might want to follow the example of my parents-in-law and join a Great Books sect in Sterling, Illinois, although if it’s just a lot of Michener you could be wasting your time. Vow to learn Greek so that you can read the original Euripides, all the while remembering Chico’s “You-rip-a-dese, you pay!” Make your next movie one with subtitles, but don’t read them aloud. Opera is not out of the question, although probably not the Ring Cycle right off of the bat. But don’t go to the opera if you’re going to sit there the whole time wondering, “All right already, where’s the fat lady?” Britannica Blog

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