So I have a question for you:
I was looking at an old friend of mine's visual art on her web page, and her art is incredibly good, and talking to a different friend of mine, and thinking about my sculpture, and thinking about Conrad's Heart of Darkness, and listening to Bach's St. Matthew Passion, and It helped crystalize a question I have been trying to articulate for a while now. I think, and I am very possibly wrong, that there is a difference between good work, and masterful work. I feel like the difference is hard to put my finger on, but it has something to do with the craft aspect of the piece, and not the aesthetic aspect. Some work seems inspired, or like it fits my taste very well, but other work seems like it overshadows other work in it's field. Like it's creator had a better control and understanding of the technical aspects of it's creation that I could even if I studied the medium for a long time. That seems like part of the distinction I want to make.
Now either I am right, and it's easier and easier to tell the difference the more experienced you get with a specific medium, or I am wrong, and it's just a misconception one develops from never getting too far into an art while dabbling enough to recognize technical proficiency, or it is some more complicated third thing. What do you think? Am I looking for a non-sensical distinction?
I think it may be tempting for me to try to lump good art, music, etc. into two categories: 'I like it and it's good.', and 'wow the technical proficiency in that piece is so far beyond me that I can't understand how a human could make it.' Perhaps that creates the illusion of these categories.
I've been thinking about this a lot this year. In the past few years I have learned enough to compose music, though not well, and analyze scores. I can sing in and out of the shower, and in an organized chorus. I can draw tolerably well now. I can finally sculpt things that resemble what I want to make before I touch the clay. I can still write tolerable fiction, alright poetry, and good essays. My reading has gotten much better. I can take pictures with some vague thought about general composition. I can sew things that aren't embarrassing to wear out of the house, which may just speak to my taste and not my level of 'skill'. I can dance well enough that I won't flat out reject the idea of going to a swing night or a waltz party. I can definitely speak most directly about writing, but I am thinking about this laterally.
I don't plan on ever mastering any of the arts mind you. I would just like to be able to look at, listen to, read, touch, etc. a piece and think about it critically. That is mostly why I am studying them.
I was wondering what all of you thought about all this.
Agreed 100%! That is totally how I feel, but then where is the line? Is there a line? Is it really a difference in kind, or just degree? Is the line a technical line, or an aesthetic one? Is it as subjective as aesthetics are? How do I recognize the two? Am I in any danger of becoming overly interested in 'the greats' when I think this way? What if I start thinking that there simply hasn't been any great writing since the german enlightenment, or something weird like that? Should I doubt that kind of claim on principal? How much value can I place one the distinction? What is the worth of good work, or masterful work? I dunno. I think I'm overwhelmed with questions because I have never thought about some of these issues until very recently, and I am now painfully aware of my ignorance.
I am pretty sure it is too. I would like a map of the terrain. It comes back to being a part of a "great" books curriculum too.
You know, Montaigne seemed to be claiming something like this: Experience is a reasonable criterion for authority. So you don't need to get your info about ethics from Aristotle, you can get them from experience. In fact, you have as much right to speak to ethics as Ari did. What gives him such authority? He didn't have access to anything we don't unless it was experiences we lack or divine inspiration. So Montaigne, among others (Bacon comes to mind) helped us protect ourselves from our own idolatry, and saved us from slavish devotion to the ancients.
That all sounds great to my egalitarian American ear, right, but frankly, Ari might have been thinking a bit more clearly or articulating himself better than me (Oh sure, if you can do that in attic greek). He might have been more thorough than me. Something. I dunno. Now-a-days, I look at literacy campaigns that seem to think that if our kids read ANYTHING they are doing good, and I look at Barnes and Noble shelves, and I look at television (Seinfeld comes to mind)... I can't help wondering if we aren't horrible self important narcissists, so obsessed with our own voices at the expense of 'actual wisdom' (whatever the hell that is) that we wouldn't know masterful writing if it ate our fingers. We seem to care more about telling our stories than we care about good stories. That makes me suspect that wanting to clear the distinction between masterful and good may be a desire I have so that I can get out of re-reading Kant and Tolstoy and can write short stories instead. In short, maybe I am lazy, and maybe I don't want to put a fence between the greats and myself. Or maybe self expression is just an important human activity, and our society embraces it better.
I dunno. I can't decide either way. This is obviously a pretty big knot of questions for me.