Avoiding dismissiveness

12.6.12 | | 4 comments

A May 2012 episode of The Cricket and Seagull Fireside Chat featuring host Stephen Kapp Perry interviewing retired BYU professor Eric Samuelsen crystallized something for me. In the podcast, Eric discusses how excellence in human striving (in sports, in art) can lead to moments of spirituality and how we shouldn’t dismiss.

I’ve been thinking about the boundaries we draw quite a bit that last few months and from a variety of angles — literary fiction vs. genre fiction, male vs. female readings, cosplay and authenticity, LDS vs. Mormon vs. exMo fiction, film narrative vs. gaming narrative, etc. I’ve become ever more convinced of the rightness of my post Mormons and media consumption, and I highly recommend the podcast with Eric and Stephen — it contains some fantastic examples of what can happen when you avoid dismissing certain art forms or content issues as well as others experiences with art.

I have something else to add to my prior thinking on this:

On the one hand, I understand why artistic expression makes us uncomfortable. Why certain folks are scared to death of didactic-ness and others of in-appropriateness. But the longer I live and the more art I experience, the more I’m amazed by how essentially conservative (maybe meaningful would be the better word) most art is. Or rather, how it all comes back to questions of love, faith, loyalty, creativity, fidelity, charity, integrity, friendship, family, etc.

There are deep divides on how these questions are approached. These are varying beliefs on what social, political, cultural and religious structures best guide how we live in relation to those questions. But I’m finding an essential humanity in many diverse media/art forms.

And it makes sense that there would be. All art is created by mortal humans. Mortality messes us up. We’re all damaged and incomplete. And yet, as Mormons, we believe that we all enter mortality with unique personalities and prior experiences and, more importantly, that we all chose to do this. The fact that we all chose this life means that we all want the same thing. We experience confusion about how to get that. Art is a key way in which we hash that all out. In every artist then, is a spirit (and a light) who is striving and who comes with certain (often veiled) truths. Some of that is going to leak its way out on to the page or the canvas or the stage. And we’re going to recognize that if we give ourselves a chance to.

Of course, there’s still clumsy art, shallow art, insular art, (sexual or violence) porn, etc. Sturgeon’s Law and all that. And, as I proclaim in the post linked to above, we all have to draw our lines, and I have no problem with people drawing those lines differently. However, I think that even as we draw such lines we should avoid dismissiveness. Which means we should draw such lines with some awareness and experience — not out of naive zealotry.

4 comments: “Avoiding dismissiveness

  1. Mahonri Stewart

    I really love the humane and charitable attitude expressed in this article, William… but at what point do we become “dismissive” of other people’s dismissiveness? Is using the phrase “naive zealotry” not just a different kind of dismissiveness focused in a different direction?

    I remember thinking James Goldberg was dismissive in his critique of my play of A Roof Overhead (I believe I used the word “condescending,” which Katya has sometimes applied to me which goes to show that maybe I was hyper aware of a flaw that can also be found in myself). But when I thought more about James’ critique, as much as I disagreed with it, it forced me to re-evaluate the piece and I asked for some feedback on the play from Scott Hales, who I considered a less antagonistic source… which I think improved the play incredibly and helped me get it closer to where I actually wanted it in the first place. So, although I still bristle at some of James’ rhethoric in that review, and I think he should of toned that down (which is why I didn’t go to HIM for advice on how to improve it), he ultimately did me a great favor by speaking his mind on it. If he hadn’t been so dismissive, I may have never re-evaluated the piece.

    I’m of two minds on this issue, although I have heard/read Eric speak on this issue several times. He thinks all “art” is essentially “good”… which is an idea I struggle with, but which is attractive at the same time.

  2. William Morris Post author

    It’s a direction that I have no problem focusing in.

    By definition, naive means lacking in experience; zealotry is fanaticism or militant-ism. The opinions of militants who are naive should be dismissed. They are of no value. How could they be if they show absolutely no awareness of the subjects on which they are given?

    I don’t if you clicked through to my previous post on this subject, but let me also be clear that I have no problem with people drawing content lines. And, in fact, I distrust those who refuse to draw any content lines. And I allow for a wide range of subjectivity in relation to opinions about various art forms/genres and specific works of art (and in a variety of registers — high, low and middlebrow). Indeed, I think that’s unavoidable. That doesn’t mean that I think all judgments are of equal value or that whatever anybody believes is okay. If one wants to express an opinion, they need to do so from a place of experience. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they have to be total nerds. And really, the best approach is to stay away from absolutes when it comes to claims about genres/forms.

    I suppose we should charitably allow for a period of naive zealotry, but that should occur in one’s early teens and be done with by the time one becomes an adult.

  3. Mahonri Stewart

    I think that makes a lot of sense.

    I still reserve my right to have an aversion to zombie stories, though. ;)

    Not that I think zombie stories are inherently bad… I hear the TV series _The Walking Dead_ is quite good, for example… I still just think they’re icky and boring… but I’m sure there are plenty of stories that could prove me wrong. But as a matter of personal taste… yeah, not my thing.

  4. Th.

    .

    All art is created by mortal humans. Mortality messes us up. We’re all damaged and incomplete.

    We feel that way about scripture too. Consider Moroni’s words:

    Condemn me not because of mine imperfection, neither my father, because of his imperfection, neither them who have written before him; but rather give thanks unto God that he hath made manifest unto you our imperfections, that ye may learn to be more wise than we have been.

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