Sometimes when I read reviews, the reviewer will say something like: “I really wanted to like this, but… blah, blah, blah.”
This phrase really annoys me. Taken at face value, it seems like an attempt of the reviewer to place the ultimate blame for his disliking on the creators. After all, how can it be the reviewer’s fault if he wanted or tried to like it? What more could be asked of an audience member?
I would ask audience members to be not so self-conscious of whether or not they like something; just let the artwork affect you in whatever way it will, and you’ll find whether or not you like it by the end without even having to think about it.
You don’t get any credit for wanting to like something. Of course you wanted to like it; finding some kind of pleasure in the experience of art is the reason we put ourselves in the position to experience it in the first place. But one should always realize that the possibility of disliking something is there and beyond one’s control. You can’t predict how certain pieces of art will affect you; that’s one of the really fun things about experiencing it.
Ideally, one shouldn’t go in expecting to like something. That way, one won’t be disappointed with the occassional but inevitable disliking. Of course, this is easier said than done; there’s always some reason we’re interested in a particular piece of art; there’s always some quality about it we think we have a good possibility of liking. But we can and should still manage our expectations realistically, realizing that they won’t always be fulfilled exactly as we naturally daydream them to be. (Mentioning this reminds me of my older post about goals.)
When you dislike something, the fault is yours and the creator’s. That’s OK. You don’t have to be ashamed of that. You don’t have to make excuses about how you “tried” to like it. Everyone has different tastes and backgrounds they bring to the experiences they have, and while some would like to think of their tastes as being better or more sophisticated or more real than someone else’s, there really is no basis for thinking such things. We can claim another person’s tastes are immoral if there’s something someone else likes that we think they shouldn’t on moral grounds, but this has nothing to do with sophistication or intellect (as we tend to assume it does because of observed behavorial correlations, but that’s another matter). There’s also the possibility that you won’t like something because you’re not experienced enough with the piece’s background, or what material it references, or what historical influence it had. Some academic snobs might look down on your opinions for your “misunderstandings” of such great works of genius and claim that your low opinions of the piece are invalid because you are dumb, but they’re wrong. Yes, your ignorance (and your past experiences) will affect how you respond to a piece, but how does that make your natural emotional reaction any less valid? The validity of your liking or disliking does not get to be decided by a show of hands or a scholar’s analysis. How much your liking or disliking might predict someone else’s future emotional reaction can certainly be debated (such as: “Oh, I disagree with Roger Ebert 70% of the time, so I’m not worried that he didn’t like this film I want to see…”), but not your opinion’s validity. It’s not as if your emotional reaction is somehow faked by your ignorance.
Finally, how do you actively “try” or “want” to like something while experiencing it anyway? Do you consciously ignore stuff you don’t like in hopes you won’t notice them anymore? Do you think of pretty ponies prancing through the praries in your head? Do you eat loads of candy hoping to trick yourself into thinking that the joy of devouring sugar is actually from the art you wish to like?
My main point is this: you can’t control your emotional reactions to works of art, and should therefore not be ashamed of liking or disliking something. It may be informative for you to think about what specifically you didn’t like and what you think would’ve made something better. But you never need to try to justify your response. Such justifications will be invalid anyway; nothing justifies your response other than the fact that it was truly your response. Your desire to like something is irrelevant, and it’s silly (if not just plain stupid) to mention it.
Thanks for reading this post; I hope you liked it, or at least tried to…