Wednesday, August 30, 2023

About good art

This, by one Jash Dholani, has been provoking much derision on Twitter over the past few days.

The easiest and most obvious response is to find examples that contradict Dholani’s reductive categorisation (the first, for example, would allow any number of Hallmark Christmas romcoms to make a better claim to being “good art” than, say, the oeuvres of David Lynch or Luis Buñuel, which is almost too silly to contemplate) but, inevitably, I’m going to zoom in on Dholani’s view of canonicity, or the “Hall of Fame” as he puts it. The assumption that great art is made with a eye to becoming part of the canon really misses the point of why anyone would want to create anything; and in any case, it’s not the artist who decides. That’s the job of the gatekeepers, the academics, critics and ultimately the consumers of art.

And the same applies to those who might want to “destroy the canon”, although I remain skeptical as to whether that will ever happen. Instead, the canon has always been and will always be in a state of flux. It happened as far back as the first century BC, when Virgil’s work began to acquire more renown than that of Ennius (who he?); and carries on today as the likes of Alexander Pope and Walter Scott are pushed out of the nest by... well, choose your own names, but Toni Morrison springs to mind. Dholani’s own Twitter handle is oldbooksguy, which would suggest he sees the canon as some sort of refuge for the Dead White Males, but its composition never stands still, even if change comes so slowly it’s practically imperceptible. And the new admissions (which Dholani classifies as “good art”) are the ones prompting that incremental change, which he presumably sees as a bad thing.

Ah, hang on. I know what Dholani’s chart reminds me of. It’s J Evans Pritchard all over again.

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