Why Is Art Hard? If It’s Not, It Ain’t

July 12, 2006

Why Is Art Hard?
“According to current wisdom, listening to music, reading poetry [or novel or short story, watching a movie], or contemplating a painting should not be thought of as work, least of all as hard work. Works of art that demand serious attention, time, and effort are treated with suspicion because they might not appeal to a significant section of the population. The official politics of culture of our time stigmatizes such art for not being inclusive.” That’s the insight of cultural critic Frank Furedi in his Telegraph essay “
Music Matters Too Much to Be Made Easy.” He quotes composer James MacMillan: When we are challenged, we must “give something up, something of our humanity, something of our precious time.” By doing so—in rare moments—we “transcend the chasm that usually separates the cerebral from the sensual.”

Furedi misleads, though. Art is not difficult—no piece of art is. Understanding its aesthetics—the logic system that defines its beauty and possibly its truth—challenges our reasonable, rational selves, and like anything new and challenging, it requires work to understand. It’s akin to learning a new language. There’s also a part of us that distrusts individuals who don’t speak “our” language in public. That same distrust arises when a painting, novel, poem, or symphony challenges our sense of aesthetics because in essence it says that we’re not as smart as we thought . There’s the challenge and the rub. That’s the task of art–to challenge our sense of ourselves through our more human, sensual side, as Furedi notes so well. 

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