New York Daily Photo Analytics

Friday, January 23, 2009

Acquired Taste

New Yorkers can be extremely ethnocentric. I have frequently had discussions about popularity of the arts in the United States and many believe, for example, that opera is very popular in America. If you stood in Lincoln Center on a night where Placido Domingo, Jose Carreras and Luciano Pavarotti were singing and tickets were nowhere to be found, of course it appears that opera is very popular. If you go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art on a nice weekend day, it appears that the masses are interested in fine art.
But the reality is that fine arts, classical music, ballet and opera are haute cuisines and many, such as opera, are consumed by a very small, rarefied, older, well-heeled audience or students. These facts escape many New Yorkers who only see the world through very special glasses. Travel through America and you will find how few have ever attended an opera or even know who Puccini is.
Admittedly, these fine arts are not a necessity, but like any form of education or culture, they greatly improve a person. They are not practical. Unfortunately most things in this country fall to a common denominator - that which can be quantified or used as a tool to do something that can be quantified. So the sciences are always favored over the arts which are routinely cut from school programs. I say this as someone who saw himself as strictly a science and math person when younger - the last thing I expected in life was that I would be doing photography or writing.
Like it or not, to get most people interested in the arts, you need a hook and for most, a little drama will serve as that hook. Something large, incredibly ornate or very expensive usually provides the drama needed. So to take someone to the Metropolitan Museum of Art who has no particular love of art, my first choices are the Egyptian wing or medieval armor (seen in the photo). People understand armor and most are fascinated by weaponry and other accoutrement of the world. The large imposing figures on horseback are very compelling. With some luck, this experience may served as an appetizer, possibly leading to larger meals of art later on.
Now many would say, why force feed a person with these things? If something is not immediately satisfying, why bother? Because I believe art, like many finer things, is an acquired taste. Appreciation and love comes with exposure over time. The full depth and breadth of Beethoven's work can not be instantly appreciated - difficult for many to understand in a world of immediate gratification. But the pleasure one can derive from something more sophisticated can be great. For most people, if they look back over their lives, they see incremental improvements in taste and standards with no desire to go back. Enjoying finer things and haute cuisine are not snobbery for its own sake, just a different perspective of those with an acquired taste ...


Paul - leeds daily photo said...

Hi Brian
I get most of my view of the US via books by Bill Bryson, films and a friend who lives in St Paul MN. This by its very nature gives my a rather slanted perception of America, but at least I know that.
Nice article and very true.

Anonymous said...

Interesting post on art and the hook required to get them in. It is what advertising does to death. I guess that's why so many people no longer take the bait.

Art here is like art there or anywhere. It is a distinct group and the rest don't bother.

Terry B said...

A great post, Brian. When I think about art and its role in America, I often think of the wonderful tagline [almost a mission statement, really] for the NEA: "A great nation deserves great art."

The arts are alive and at least semi-well in America, but New York is the center of the art universe, it's true.

Regarding the armor, it's funny that that is indeed one way to sneak art into people's lives. Here in Chicago, I was recently delighted to see that an armor display one had to pass through to get from one wing of the Art Institute of Chicago to another had recently been replaced by actual art.

Anonymous said...

Great blog!

Thank you Brian!

Anonymous said...

Very true and well said.I entirely
agree. Thank you.
About one month ago,I had trying to
writte the same idea on your post. You have deleted it. Maybe my Englih writting was clumbsy. Maybe
you didn't undestand my purpose.
Please,why did you delete it?

Julie said...

Excellent shots once again. I have enjoyed your photos of all of the great sites in New York. Your shots provide a great flavor of New York City. Nothing like it!

Katie cat said...

This reminds me... I need to get over to the Museum of Natural History. I've been to the MET so often, it's time to give history a chance!!!

Fernando said...

True that. I was in NYC last August and went to a lot of Jazz places (Smalls, 55 Bar, Cachaça, Birdland, among others) and I was thinking that NYC could be a city to listen nice jazz music... But when you go there, you only see folks in their late 30s, 40s...

Anonymous said...

I always love this armor room. It is also amusing as it is named after Mayor Bloomberg's daughters Emma and Georgina.

Michael Nagle said...

I recall attending the Metropolitan Opera on many occasions as a student in New York, on weekday nights, with no celebrity superstar singers in the cast, for works as difficult to sell as Janacek's Jenufa, Strauss's Elektra, or Berlioz's Les Troyens; and on each occasion the house was virtually full - which delighted and amazed me. (That said, you must be at least partly right, because when I saw a Beethoven Fidelio under a stellar conductor, the place was bursting at the seams.)

I was also lucky enough to work as set designer for a Christopher Wheelan ballet at the Lincoln Center, and again, even for contemporary ballet, the NY State Theater was full. There is always more that could be done, but I remember the city as being culturally in very fine health, so this post was very interesting for me.

• Eliane • said...

Interesting take on the Arms and Armor Dept, which I admit I almost always avoid. Do you have a favorite armor?
Did you know the Metropolitan Museum of Arts is the number one attraction in the city in terms of attendance? Yes, ahead of the statue of Liberty. Of course, we do have a lot of foreign visitors and out-of-towners but we also have a lot of New Yorkers and kids.
In times of crisis, museums are such a great comfort for people. After 9/11, attendance at the Met increased sharply. It is reassuring and inspiring to be surrounded by centuries of beautiful creations. And there's no need to be an art snob to experience that.