The more we think about how we tend to experience art, the more we’re forced to notice how little of our experience comes from the piece itself. This is not to devalue the importance of artistry or artifice, but to state the stark truth that no matter how good or, indeed, how bad the work we’re engaging with is, much of our experience will come from the specifics of our encounter. An audience may be much more willing to put up with a ham-handed script full of plot-holes having been dosed heavily with morphine: Or, conversely, they may have found a novel that otherwise would have been quite a pleasant read to be unbearable for the simple fact that they are being devoured by ants at the time. Most examples are less extreme, but the principle holds.
Now, this influence is pretty obvious: Everyone knows that their mood and the circumstances under which they partake of arts or entertainment will affect their enjoyment. The point is, though, that those of us who have undertaken to evaluate works with a critical eye, to dissect what makes a given piece work or fail to work, are faced with this in a very direct way. After all, if we’re so much at the whim of our moods and our circumstances, wouldn’t it be irresponsible not to account for that when we seek to analyze a work?
But the more you try to account for the context of an experience the worse it gets. You become distracted by trying to tell whether that thing you liked was a property of the game you’re playing now or your general good mood, and your attempt to account for the biases formed by the experience end up biasing the experience even more. Or, perhaps, you try to plan your encounters with a particular work for a time when you’re likely to engage with it well – completely negating for yourself the joys of surprise, of discovery, or perhaps even making it so you never actually discover the right circumstances to play the game, to see the movie, to read the novel.
I guess this is a hobbyist disease’s. I guess if someone’s paying you to formulate an opinion then you damn well bite that bullet, play or see or read, and write whatever comes into your head, confident that if they didn’t like it they wouldn’t be paying you to write it. Capitalism often simplifies things that way: One of its more commendable traits.
Nevertheless, since no one’s forcing me, I often find myself putting off doing things that I am reasonably confident I would enjoy more or less indefinitely. I am awash in games and movies which I have never watched, a situation particularly embarrassing given my current situation of more-or-less abject poverty.
I do believe that it’s time to come up with a plan of battle. I believe that it is time to throw the chips in the air and let them fall where they may, damn the janitors, full speed ahead, etcetera. I believe it is time to construct a method of engaging with art that does not require me to decide each day what I will encounter, because I simply cannot be trusted with that responsibility. I think too much and it never happens.
Let’s see what I’ve got lying around.