Understanding different kinds of art

There are some kinds of art that I intuitively understand – like an elegant mathematical proof, or a beautiful combination in a game of chess; a Sachin Tendulkar straight drive, or a long-distance beautifully threaded pass by Xabi Alonso. I can easily appreciate a well-done-up home when I see it. Some music makes me go delirious, and there have been times when I’ve actually started rolling on the floor in ecstasy after listening to certain songs.

But there is art that I simply don’t get. Poetry – for example – I’ve never got what is the big deal with that. To me it just looks like a bunch of sentences broken up in random ways, which is supposed to make it sound nice. In fact, I’ve argued earlier that poetry is a vestige of the pre-writing era.

It is the same with “literature”. Some people read books or articles because they are just “written beautifully”.  I absolutely fail to appreciate that phrase. As long as something is explained simply and intuitively, it is enough for me. In fact, when a writer tries to get too cute and makes a conscious effort to “write beautifully” it puts me off, for it makes the reading less intuitive. As a consequence, there’s hardly any fiction I’ve read in the last 5-6 years.

I was thinking of this last evening when I went to watch this dance show called “Prayog 4” here in Bangalore. I think it was good – the three performances looked extremely well choreographed and well-coordinated, and the dancers seemed to have put in considerable effort into the production. They were all supremely fit and were literally doing gymnastics during the course of the performance. But my appreciation of the performance ended there.

After one of the performances, the wife exclaimed “you know, this dance so represents your and my lives!”. I just couldn’t understand what she was hinting at. All I could see was this one guy dancing round and round in circles, and doing gymnastics on a rope! As I mentioned earlier, his movements were extremely graceful and aesthetically pleasing but I just couldn’t get anything more out of it.

Later last night, my wife asked me what I understood from the first performance (yesterday’s show essentially had three separate performances). “A bunch of chicks doing extremely graceful gymnastics on a bunch of parallel bars”, I replied. “Didn’t you notice how beautifully they represented different emotions during the course of the dance”, she asked. I admitted to recognizing nothing of the sort. Instead, I was sitting there, wondering what the big deal was, and trying to construct this blog post in my head.

“Art” is not unidimensional, and “appreciating art” is too broad a statement. After my experience yesterday I don’t know if there are people who can appreciate all kinds of art. For a moment I thought I was a philistine for I couldn’t appreciate yesterday’s performance, but then I remembered the pieces of art I mentioned in the beginning of this blog post that I truly appreciate. So, no – I’m not a philistine. It’s just that there are certain art forms I get and ones I don’t.

Have you felt similarly sometimes? Are there some art forms you “get” easily, and others that you absolutely fail to get? Or do you consider yourself to be the types that gets all kinds of art, and you argue that the ones you don’t get is simply not art? Or do you fail to get any art at all? Do leave a comment.

6 thoughts on “Understanding different kinds of art”

  1. Hello, came across your post through Twitter!

    I enjoy sports artistically (the traits you mention). Not withstanding your opinion about some people regarding ‘beautiful writing’, I hope you tried reading non-fiction or biographies or some other genre as you didn’t like fiction.

    IMO, poetry is about perception. I enjoy reading poetry about society, life. Poetry for me in some ways was a natural transition from movie songs of Sri Sri, Veturi, Sirivennela (Telugu) and Sahir Ludhianvi (Hindi).

    I can really appreciate the magic of music instruments and classical singers but cannot understand abstract paintings (I like painting in general, the idea of expressing thoughts in images! Wow. I don’t paint though). I haven’t taken conscious effort to pick it up either.

    “you argue that the ones you don’t get is simply not art?”
    I don’t think so. Couple of friends mentioned the beauty of Bach’s music. I didn’t get it when I heard it. I might understand it after few years maybe.

    Enjoyed reading your post!

    1. Maybe you can better understand Bach if you look at the difference between a fugue and a canon. Compare one of Bach’s fugues with Pachebel in D minor.

  2. To get into poetry, you can choose from rap, performance poetry, traditional songs, bhajans teenage poetry depending on what you want to try.

  3. Sports is not art! Neither is a well done home. Music yes is an art. Maybe you are a philistine when it comes to everything except music

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