Sparkling Works of Art Do Not Require Understandability
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Does any work of art have to be understandable to most people in order to have merit? While the recondite words and thoughts in a poem may baffle us, its emotional expression does not pale. Perplexed by puzzling paintings, we are nevertheless infatuated with painters’ impressive strokes most often. Although the speaker declares art’s intelligibility to be more important than anything else, I am inclined to appreciate obscure artworks as well. It is a fact that the ambiguity in complexity and comprehensibility abounds in a great number of artworks. Such obscureness does actually mirror both the artists’ dignity and the affluence of the representation of their mental worlds. All of these characteristics contribute to the irreplaceable merits of art.
On the one hand, I have to admit that the intelligibility and lucidity of art constantly occur in various artworks, from a Hollywood blockbuster to a catchy street song. As a consequence of the clarity of art, people come to know it, talk about it, accept it and are eventually willing to spread it. One of China’s Four Great Classical Novels, Dream of the Red Chamber, once adapted for television from elusive classical literature to lucid modern Chinese without overshadowing its deep thoughts, allows almost all of Chinese people to participate in the discussion of it and to learn from it. Such understandability enables classical artwork to flourish in public and to attain fresh significance in modern society.
Artists, however, do not always have to cater to market demands, at times even at the cost of art’s integrity and uniqueness. While I cannot turn a blind eye to copious popular movies, songs, and TV shows which emphasize that the market is over grace and elusiveness, I am hesitant to hastily generalize all kinds of artworks in the same way. Nowhere could the artists’ peerless skills, individual ideas and special personal experience be so vividly and uniquely shown and expressed as in their artworks. Pandering to the market may gain handsome profits for a while, but the resulting work of art will soon lose its value and enduring attraction. For supporting example, let us turn to modern pop music in China. Chinese pop nowadays is putting many efforts into imitating the style of American pop songs, such as those by Westlife, Blackstreet Boys and Tylor Swift. Sadly some Chinese pop songs are just of the similar level as Westlife in 1990s. Though those songs do gain enviable popularity in China over a period of time, they are doomed to be submerged and superseded by others in consequence of lacking original creativity. The very fact that these producers must conjure up various new productions one after another ironically reveals their awareness of evanescent value of their works as well as their trepidation of losing the market due to such fleeting value.
More importantly, the intrinsic value of artworks does not necessarily require them to be lucid and intelligible. Art’s merit is primarily embodied in artists’ skill mastery and performance, as well as in the expression and representation of their mental worlds. Such skills remain exclusive to artists due to opaqueness; likewise, artists’ unique and special experience and thoughts also alienate them from those who have never shared similar stories ever. These artworks, therefore, may always elude most people, but under no circumstance does this complexity hinder them from achieving their inner worth. The abstruse expression of Picasso’s Guernica precludes common appreciation; similarly, people with no experience under the devil’s trample fail to empathize with the painter. Its adept expression of surrealism and cubism, nevertheless, earns Picasso worldwide fame with vivid portrayal of his agony and fury about violence. People applaud it as a highly meritorious masterpiece rather than dispute its arcane theme and expression.
To summarize, while we may feel a sense of closeness with artists when previously elusive artworks become accessible, such a switch often takes place at the expense of uniqueness and integrity of art. For a better understanding of art, we should better cultivate our aesthetic appreciation and discernment, rather than thirst for the convergence of elegance and mediocrity.