For our January book club, we read Carl Wilson's book Let's Talk About Love, a book written for the 33 1/3 series on the topic of the eponymous Celine Dion album, but that ultimately is more of a treatise on taste than anything else. Wilson, a Canadian music writer, begins the book by simultaneously acknowledging two things: that Celine Dion is obscenely popular and that he finds her music distasteful. He uses the example of her Academy Award performance the year that Titanic's "My Heart Will Go On" as a way of contrasting her with with the music he is drawn towards, music like Elliott Smith's, another (if unlikely) Oscar performer that year.
As a Canadian myself, and one who lived for a long time in Montreal, I can attest to the truthfulness of his account of her omni-presence. Not only was she on the radio everywhere, or did she own a chain of diners throughout the city, but her photograph hung, for instance, in the coffee shop I frequented, sandwiched between Italian memorabilia, the only semi recent cultural reference in the establishment. She really is, or at least was, everywhere there, and it was hard not to see her as the antithesis of the music I used to define my young self, music for, as Wilson puts it, "aesthetic appreciation."
Ultimately, however, Wilson makes an interesting point about art. He makes a case for broadening our interpretation of the value of art. By this I mean that he points out that, while Dion's music might not be ideal for aesthetic appreciation, maybe it is ideal for cooking dinner, or crying at your mother's funeral, or making love. I think this argument can be extended beyond music, as well, which was a lot of what was discussed in our meeting. As gallery workers, art world citizens, a lot of our time, a lot of my time, is spent valuing art, ranking it based on pedigree, precedents, skill... I wouldn't, for instance, hang a Thomas Kinkade painting in my house, since it is abhorrent to me. But I would spend all day and night watching made for TV movies about true crime, and would interchange it indiscriminately with French new wave film. It's not that I see these as equals, but I appreciate them equally, for different reasons. Wilson's book makes an argument for this, for providing yourself with the latitude to enjoy art for different reasons and not exclusively for aesthetic appreciation.
There's also a lot more in there, so, check it out!