Monday, 1 November 2010

The Pleasure of Knowing

“I don’t know much about Art, but I know what I like”

This phrase juxtaposes two kinds of knowledge: knowledge about something and knowledge of something. I may know of your best friend but this doesn’t mean that I know about them. If I knew about them I might like them, but I can’t really like anything much (apart perhaps from the most primitive pleasures) without further knowledge.

The implication of the phrase is that knowing is somehow opposed to liking or that liking precedes and is superior to knowing. This isn’t just anti-intellectualism but a privileging of sensory pleasures over cognitive ones. There’s knowing and knowing. The more we know, the more refined our understanding and the greater the scope for pleasure.

8 comments:

Tamsin said...

Or, it shows a sense of intimidation and feelings of inadequacy. The person speaking believes that there's a 'proper' world of art 'out there' - which they'e either excluded from or just ignorant of. They feel uncomfortable and worried that they're going to expose their ignorance by saying they like something that 'people who know' have deemed kitch, or bad, or inferior.

And by the way, I've decided that I really don't like Matisse very much, though I recognise his importance historically (somewhat like Freud). I don't usually like 'good/bad' when applied to art, but I actually PRIVATELY think that a lot of his stuff is really clunky and uninteresting. Saying this to myself feels like a kind of heresy - and a sort of opposite version of your statement. 'I know that you people who know all agree that Matisse is superb, but I don't think he knew what he was doing...' Mmmm...

J. Hamlyn said...

You've raised a really important point there. Just when I thought I'd managed to write a short pithy post too!!!

I guess I was reacting to the entrenchment that comes from those feelings you mention of being excluded or feeling like you don't know enough or don't feel able to explain what you do know. Anything which closes the mind to what the mind can contribute to experience seems deeply counterproductive to me. But the issue of WHY those feelings sometimes arise is certainly useful for teachers to reflect upon too.

Seán said...

And then there are those who know all about art, but don't know what they like. So they like what they are told to.

J. Hamlyn said...

And then there are those who know about what they like. We sometimes call them 'connoisseurs' - and there's another issue altogether: Listen to Barry Smith on Philosophy Bites

Lesley Punton said...

Tamsin, I understand that feeling of thinking someone you "ought to like" is over-rated, but I'm surprised you think Matisse didn't know what he was doing. I never really "got" Matisse until I visited MOMA in New York. There, as a 20 year old student, seeing a whole room of major works in the flesh, it all made so much sense to me. The more decorative pieces were surprisingly absent, leaving a series of extremely beautiful, pared down works (mainly still life's) that almost pre-empted the minimalism of Rothko but with none of the pseudo spiritual stuff imposed.

...Picasso, on the other hand (apart from les demoiselles, and maybe early cubism - with Braque) doesn't quite do it for me!

Tamsin said...

You're quite right to pick me up on this. When I said he didn't know what he was doing, I was paraphrasing a friend who had said this when I expressed the same views. Actually it isn't quite what I would have said normally - who does know what they're doing? (and to be fair to the friend, she said that it didn't matter anyway!). I think I'm partly reacting to the biography I'm reading, which writes in glowing terms about some paintings that are reproduced in the book and really do nothing at all for me. There's a kind of reverence in the way the writer writes, which seems out of place to me...

And you're right that seeing things in the flesh is a very different matter. There are some Matisses that I really like - two goldfish bowls with a lot of black and white, for example, and more than anything, the paper cutouts at the end of his life. So I guess it's silly to be sweeping about these things. You've helped me see that I'm probably reacting to the biographer more than the paintings!

J. Hamlyn said...

I've always been very fond of "The Snail" ever since I had a postcard of it on my wall as a kid - even the friend (or was it a teacher?) who said that the title ruined it for them hasn't dented my enjoyment of it. I remember being inspired by the simplicity of torn and cut edges, and the sheer graceful confidence of it. It seems to be so much about opposites and how they're not as oppositional as we might ordinarily think.

Lesley Punton said...

...and in the flesh, the snail is an extraordinary piece of daring! it's scale at 3 metres square goes beyond simple collage and one is met with such surprising boldness in an 83 year old, bedridden artist. (not that this makes it better per se, but it does show that Matisse's need to create never waned).

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