I’ve been thinking a lot more deeply about how I think about art, and a sad realization I’ve come to is that I categorize the works I love by whether they are good or bad. At some basic level, this doesn’t seem too bad, but it’s throwing me back to a time in my elementary school journal where I would make T-diagrams for all the binaries in my life, splitting things into good and bad categories: friends, school subjects, books, TV shows. It helped me crystallize my thoughts and make a definitive opinion about a wide range of things in my life.
I think I carried this habit into my high school years, determinately debating why I fiercely loved some books and hated others in Enlglish class, my beliefs settled in their ways. I wanted to have an opinion about everything, and in order to do that, you either have to truly know a lot about a lot of things, or simply scam your way through arguments and loopholes and binaries in order to appear to know things. I’ve seen this happen in many classes at Michigan (specifically political science classes, though you didn’t hear it from me) where people label themselves in a way which shuts many doors to other possibilities of thought. Students label themselves “communists” or “marxists” or “democratic socialists” (which I think… I might be–); they say they only listen to Indie music, that pop songs are trash, some Kpop music is okay; we “cancel” each other, call each other out, try to stay “woke” about anything and everything, interjecting ourselves in conversations about climate change and intersectional feminism and genocides and the perils of capitalism and sustainable fashion with our Twitter-fed knowledge. We have watered down the meaning of knowledge in order to appear informed. In so many college spaces, I’ve seen the performance of global understanding. In reality, most students have a superficial understanding of the world’s problems, though a robust set of unshakable opinions.
The more I learn, the less I realize I know. This has grounded in me a deep humility, and also a sense of inadequacy. I am not good enough, I don’t know enough, I don’t deserve to be here– and yet, we all keep faking it. Why? Why can’t we accept the fact that the search for knowledge is a continual journey, one that never settles, and that is constantly reaching for the higher ideal? I want to have good opinions, well-informed opinions, that can be subject to change– not opinions that I will debate until I’ve won over those that disagree with me. That undermines the entire process of acquiring knowledge, of developing ideas.
More specifically to art: I’ve realized I’ve been doing this same thing with TV shows, books, movies, poetry. I often cannot recall moments that touched me in particular and I sometimes forget the feeling the narrative left me with– but I remember, for some absurd reason, whether it is “bad” or “good” and I materialize an opinion for it. I am tired of my own lazy systems of developing opinions to rack up my intelligence points. I want to stop looking at the world as good or bad, and simply look.