You know the old Reese’s commercial where the guy stumbles with a bar of chocolate and plunges it into some dude’s bowl of peanut butter? Outraged, he declares “You’ve got peanut butter on my chocolate!”, while his nemesis cries out “You’ve got chocolate in my peanut butter!”? The mythology is that this is the serendipitous origin of a multi-million dollar candy company. How nice….
Well, sometimes things actually don’t seem to go together. Not all collisions between otherwise ordinary things make sense. Being interested in some things seems to automatically exclude interest in others. Not everything seems to fit harmoniously, “Two great tastes that taste great together”. Maybe not everything goes together even in an extreme Janusian sense of dot connecting possibility, especially, perhaps, for us more conventional and traditionally ‘normal’ people. How do we make sense of incompatible perspectives without descending into a battle of myopic personal prejudice?
I just had a sales event that netted me all of $3 (after the Girl Scout cookies and cup I bought). Maybe the worst single event in my storied selling history! The pots were good. That wasn’t the problem. The venue was okay. Other artists sold a few things (no one did spectacularly well, though). So why does some art sometimes fall flat? What makes one audience supportive and others not? Its a question we tend to ignore in the times of prosperity. Its a question, none the less…. And I’d like to know why.
It seems that context accounts for almost everything. The right audience is simply the one trained to appreciate certain things, and the setting can either be appropriate or not. Folks need to be in the mood, but not just any old folks it seems….. Sometimes its a case of “You’ve got floor wax on my dessert toping!”. Sometimes its like conducting a wine tasting at a pig slopping contest. Sometimes its like showing a painting exhibit in a strobe lit discotheque. Sometimes its like having a petting zoo on the track of a stock car crash derby……
When we fire our pots in saggers filled with old love letters, our leftover prescription medicine, miracle grow, imported Yak dung, and Orange blossoms, do we expect people to stand up and take notice? Maybe if we put a few birds on them…. Or draw some flowers…?
Artists and supporters of the arts are often transfixed by their inability to extend their audience. We are like deer in the headlights. We are dumbfounded that something so obvious to us, that moves us with passion, can pass others by unnoticed. It can get trampled underfoot as the Philistines perplexingly rush to witness some other activity that is almost always incomprehensible to us. We don’t get it. Whatever got their attention surely pales beside what we’ve got? Mustn’t it? Isn’t our taste (not your’s, the guy with the tuba, obviously…) infallible?
How much more obvious does it need to be? Science fiction novels chronicling the interstellar space opera of vampire cyborg mice invasions? Paintings of famous people as insects? Impromptu Jello sculptures on New York Subways? Halftime football shows by dance companies performing competing ballets in the same space and wearing football costumes and cleats…..? The human capacity to miss the obvious splendor is legendary. The human capacity to instead be interested in the seemingly irrelevant and bizarre is both infinite and hardly surprising. It seems that almost everyone else is on a bender. All but us. The ones who get it. And only if we agree…..
But why is that? Our privileged position of taste and preference is no more objectively worthy than any other. Just because its the way we see the world. Or that we’ve perhaps got institutional backing…. Advocacy seems at heart a squabble of historically contingent and ultimately arbitrary values. And we surely can’t both be right to applaud and dismiss in opposite directions? Or can we? Its almost as if we were in parallel but overlapping Universes where the values just got scrambled. We inevitably end up talking past one another.
Or is that merely the way of the world? Reality? Its like these others are speaking alien languages, where we can almost make out the shape of their words, but what they say makes no sense. And guessing the meaning is a bit like holding a conversation underwater. Its garbled. Gibberish….. Is this simply how different people grow up differently?
So what does the world look like from this other outlandish perspective? We obviously have no idea what possesses them about their own passions, but what do our passions look like to them? Are we not curious why they don’t get what we get? Do we have the empathy to attempt seeing the world from their point of view? Or are we simply stuck in the headlights about to be run over? Dumbfounded by ‘almost meaning’? Its sometimes as though we’ve stepped through the looking glass…..
`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.’ – Lewis Carrol “Jabberwocky” (from Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, 1872)
For something to have meaning it first must be intelligible. And when its not, the sounds and shapes and colors may all seem familiar, and the ways they were put together, but they just don’t add up to anything that makes sense. Its probably something like this hilarious video of what English sounds like to non-English speakers:
A fine tribute to the unintelligibility that besets any attempt that is out of place and out of style….. information is always contingent.
Make beauty real!