I Just Don’t See the Wow: Overrated Art

Posted 2/21/2011 by Amy Kristen in Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,
There are certain works of art that everyone is expected to marvel over. We are introduced to them from a young age, and they are so famous that they’ve become integrated into American pop culture, parodied even by children’s cartoon television programs before the target audience can understand the references. By the time we may get around to experiencing these works of art in person, we’ve already grown tired of them.I find it very difficult to love something when I’m told that I basically have to or else I cannot be considered an intelligent, art-respecting member of our cultured society.

For this reason, I deplore hype. I try to see movies opening weekend when I can, because, for example, after weeks of people telling me I would definitely LOVE Inception, I really didn’t like it much at all. Art is truly best when it’s discovered on your own; I enjoy that feeling of smug superiority about my excellent tastes when I seek out some truly talented unknown band without some radio station telling me it’s good. When this happens, I find I get to experience the art more intimately. Hey, Hunger Games, remember how I read you months before everyone else did? I really felt like we had a connection. Pop culture will never take that away from us.

The following is a list, in no particular order, of famous, highly lauded works of art that I just don’t think are that spectacular. On a purely logical level, yes, I can understand the artistic merit of all of them. But because I was force-fed them, I found them rather distasteful. I’m sure you will probably vehemently disagree with me about one or all of my selections, and I welcome any explanations by individuals who found the following items to be moving or inspirational; obviously they all earned their broad acclaim somehow. But, personally, I just don’t see the “wow.”

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925): Yes, I read this in high school, like every other teenager in America. But unlike ubiquitous required reading such as Catcher In the Rye or To Kill a Mockingbird, I still can’t understand what sets this book apart. And this is coming from a girl who used to read a book a day over summer vacations while growing up (I was very much a nerd). I love literature, but I don’t love Gatsby or Nick or Daisy or the plot or the setting. What is so special about the West Egg vs. the East Egg? Is this something I don’t understand because I grew up in the middle of the desert in the southwest U.S.? All I took away from this book was that there were a lot of parties, Nick has a vague gay sexual encounter (scandalous!), and there’s a giant symbol in the form of an opthamologist’s billboard. GOD IS WATCHING US. Okay, I get it. Also, the upper class is corrupt. Well, duh.

Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci (16th century): So it’s a painting of a woman who’s smiling but not really. And in reality it’s really very small even though it always is made out to be rather large. And obviously da Vinci was brilliant. But why has this particular painting become an almost farcical icon of visual art? It’s the most famous painting in the world. It has served as the inspiration of some pretty bad modern artistic offerings (The Da Vinci Code, Mona Lisa Smile…) and has been parodied ad naseaum. What is the source of our fascination with this thing?

Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller (1949): This particular play has crossed my academic path not one, not twice, but THREE different times in my educational years. So it’s got to be exceptional, right? Well, so say my professors, though I beg to disagree. Miller tells the tale of a poor ordinary man, Willy Loman, who experiences a tragic downfall despite his delusion that he is made of the stuff of greatness. Loman is supposed to represent the Everyman, but I can’t stand him. He’s stupid. He’s a terrible father to Biff. He cheats on his wife. So who cares if he suffers? Yes, that’s the point; but really, I’m over this play. Thank God I’m not in school anymore. Also, can anyone really read this thing without picturing Miller having sex with Marilyn Monroe? Horrifying image, that is.

Gone with the Wind, directed by Victor Fleming (1939): I saw this movie a couple of years ago at the insistence of my college roommate, who claimed it was her favorite movie of all time (and, of course, I had long felt like a horrible film student for having never seen it). I hated it. I couldn’t get past the racism. Or the length. Or the absolutely deplorable protagonist, Miss Scarlett O’Hara. Has there ever been a leading lady quite so whiney and selfish? And sorry, Clark Gable, but your mustache gives me the creeps. I don’t find you attractive in the slightest and I don’t know why The Postal Service felt like you deserved your own song. At least he gets to deliver the most satisfying line in the film history: “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” That’s right, Scarlett – go home to Tara and get out of my sight.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (1868): I have tried to read this book at least five different times throughout my life. It sits on my bookshelf at home quite patiently, its spine still intact, its pages still un-crinkled. But every time I start to read it, I get bored to death. I will admit that I am coming from an incredibly biased position: since my name is Amy, I tend to hold this title in very high regard. The fact that Amy is a spoiled brat always irks me. Why can’t she be more like Jo? This book goes on an on and really all that I remember is that the girls are poor but then they grow up and a lot of them die.

Casablanca, directed by Michael Curtiz (1942): This film is largely regarded as one of the greatest love stories of all time. I’m sorry, WHAT? These two people had a love affair that is supposedly of unspeakable proportions in Paris, but we don’t see any of it! This movie isn’t a love story! It doesn’t end up with Rick and Ilsa getting together, it ends with him forcing her on a plane. All this movie is about is their separation, their resignation at the fact that they’ll never be together. Depressing. But the fact that it ends with the focus on Rick's friendship with Louis Renault indicates clearly to me that this is not a love story. Please, can we stop labeling it that? I don’t care how romantic “As Time Goes By” may be. Rick’s a jerk and Ilsa’s too pretty for him anyway.

Citizen Kane, directed by Orson Welles (1941): I’m not even going to discuss this one. Film school, you have ruined me.

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