What is surprising is when so many agree on the superiority of certain works, like paintings by van Gogh or sculptures by Rodin. Or art like the Mona Lisa.
It has long been a study of mine to try and determine why and how masses can be led to agree on the best works.
How is it, when hundreds of years have past from the often tumultuous years of the artist’s life, that so many follow the lead of unknown experts in revering specific artists in such a variety of styles, like Monet or Chagall and Picasso, and specific works like, again, the Mona Lisa.
As my daughter and I stood with the crowd before the original Mona Lisa, I couldn’t help but look around at all the paintings we’d hurried past on our way to see this most famous of famous pieces, large works by old masters hung on the huge walls of the enormous halls and galleries of the Louvre.
Despite the grand works all around, everyone’s attentions was directed to the surprisingly small Italian masterpiece protected from light by glass and from tourists by ropes.
“I think I know why she’s grinning like that,” I whispered to my daughter. “She’s thinking, ‘I’ve got them hoodwinked. With all these masterpieces around, they’re only looking at me.’”
I’m OK with that. I’m OK that for whatever reason, all of us admire that particular work of Leonardo da Vinci.
And the same with all of us admiring the writings of Shakespeare and the music of Beethoven. Their approbation is well-deserved and after all these years, they are classic and we are wise to make their creations part of our lives.
Popular culture also has its way with the masses. Because of our media connections, we are able to share likes and dislikes of contemporary creations at an amazing clip.
Many of us watch the same TV shows and the same YouTube videos, read the same books and then go to the same movies based on those books.
And what’s popular isn’t just big, it’s block-buster.
But every once in a while we need to stand back and look hard at what it is we and the masses around us are getting swept up in.
I almost didn’t go to the movie, The Help, because of that one incident. You know the one I mean, the one that was beyond tasteless (sorry) to offensive.
I am not going to the movie based on Hunger Games because of sheer revulsion. I read the book, hoping all the time that all the teens would revolt and refuse to play the fatal game. I respect that the heroine only took life in self-defense, and that there was sacrifice and tenderness among those most closely followed, but I had hoped for more. Perhaps it comes in later books, I won’t find out.
But when I think of sitting in a theater watching teens – weren’t there 20?! – take each others’ lives, my mind and my heart revolts.
And when I go to a junior high and see a teenager reading the book while waiting for a ride, or see a teacher-sponsored classroom campaign based on the book, or a 13-year old running for office with a slogan from it, my stomach turns just a little bit more.
Just because everybody is looking at it doesn’t mean it has value.