Thursday, June 07, 2007

Insult or Compliment?

When I think about my first experiences with the fine arts, they didn't come from visiting museums or attending the symphony and the opera. (While that would have been nice, our family had many young children which makes attending cultural events prohibitive. Trust me, everyone enjoyed themselves more when we stayed home.) My exposure to the arts really came through the outlet of mass media. Billboards, commercials, radio programs, children's sing-along records, cereal boxes, movies... marketing and entertainment venues mainly.

I wonder now, if I had not become familiar with some of those sounds and images, would I have understood the works when I encountered them as an adult? If a brilliant musical composition was reworked and mass released to help a company sell me their product, was it insulting to the song's composer or was it simply another way to expose the world to his genius?


I remember watching Elmer Fudd and Bugs Bunny reenact the Ride of the Valkyries during Saturday morning cartoons, complete with Viking costumes and dramatic, cartoon-y landscapes.

I remember enjoying Disney's Fantasia with ballerina hippos and crocodiles, dancing dandelions and roses, Mickey Mouse as the sorcerer's apprentice... all set to classical music.
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Goodness knows how many people have taken DaVinci's Mona Lisa and given her beards, cat faces, sunglasses, fistfuls of dollar bills...

When my grandmother passed away last year, I inherited one of her statuettes- a 10" tall gnome, sitting on a pile of books, chin on his fist, contemplating his gnomish life. It bears striking resemblance to Auguste Rodin's sculpture of The Thinker.
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Have you ever seen the painting, The Scream?
Have you ever seen The Scream superimposed with the words "Give me coffee!!" or "Where's the chocolate?!"
Image:The Scream.jpg

I have to admit, my kids sometimes hear the strains of Tchaicovsky's Nutcracker ballet and squeal, "Oh, oh, oh, remember when Barbie danced to this part as the evil witch approached on her dragon?!" Sometimes they see a Rembrandt portrait and say, "Gosh, that looks a lot like the cover of my picture book, "Cats and Snails and All Kinds of Tails. Except in my book that painting isn't a man and his dog, its a smiling kitty cat with a bird sitting on his hat."

So... is mimicry the highest form of flattery, or is it the lowest form of insult?
When society takes something deemed to be "high art" and brings it down to the common people, either as an advertisement, a commercial jingle, the soundtrack for a movie, a child's cartoon, or a cutesy sculpture for the living room, is that good or bad?
Would the "high artists" be offended or honored by what we're doing with their creations?


Leatherwing said...

I relate to the musical side of this question. It's very weird to hear a punk anthem used to sell cruise ship tickets (Lust fo Life), or everyone of the CSI- Where Am I's use a different song from The Who - songs that were anti-establishment to the core, now used to market mass-arket establishment entertainment.
To me, it robs the art, takes it out of context and trivializes it. But then again, I've been called a snob before.

Erin said...

I go back and forth, Leatherwing.

So much of my early exposure to the arts was, indeed, in the advertising/entertainment venues. And I'm thankful that I was at least EXPOSED to the art, music, etc. even if it was a little warped to perform the purposes of the advertisers.

Now that I'm slightly more refined in my understanding of such matters, I enjoy the arts in their "pure" states. But I still grin when I see a clever take-off of "the real deal."

I suppose we have to decide in each case, whether the new stuff is meant to pay homage to a work, or to rip it off. And that's pretty subjective in some cases anyway.