Monday, 6 April 2009

Not Worth Going To See

I don't like to think of myself as an uncultured lout. Nobody likes uncultured louts, apart from other uncultured louts, and their opinion is hardly worth much, what with them being so uncultured and everything. I've read books. Sometimes really very long books. I've been to the theatre. I've visited the National Gallery. I could probably tell you the difference between a sonata and villanelle, if I was allowed a while to think about it, and access to reference books. I occasionally eat alfalfa sprouts. I read The Times. I watch University Challenge. Yes sir, it all adds up to one white-hot ball of intense cultural experience. Not for me the world of chips 'n' Channel 5, with its dropped aitches, its double negatives, its LOLs, and its insistence on putting the letter 'H' in front of 'aitches'. No, I've got culture up to here. (Here being a point somewhere in the region of my upper torso.)

So why is that whenever I go out of my way to see a famous work of art, or visit a historic building, I can't help feeling... well, not bored, precisely. I appreciate that it's quite good. But then I start to wonder whether it's worth the tube journey, or the admission fee, for something that's 'quite good'. After all, there are literally thousands of things that are quite good. It's quite good when you manage to get something in the bin from a distance of several metres. It's quite good when your favourite song happens to come on the radio. Having a bath is quite good. And I look at the Haywain, or the Byzantine vase, or the medieval ivory latticework, and I wonder if these things really are much better than having a bath. As Samuel Johnson nonsensically put it:

Worth seeing, but not worth going to see.

He was talking about the Giant's Causeway there, of course (see, culture). And putting aside the obvious point that pretty much everything in the world is worth seeing if you don't have to go anywhere to see it (unless you're paranoid about wearing your eyes out), I kind of get his drift. The painting may be very pleasant. Perhaps I might even go so far as to say 'excellent'. But once you've factored in the effort I've put in to go and see it, and whizzed the whole experience through a complicated enjoyment algorithm, I imagine that what comes out the other end is a greyish, lacklustre creature; a thing that brings a modest amount of pleasure to those who come across it, but still, ultimately, rather drab and unimpressive. Not the sort 0f thing you'd want to keep as a pet.

Perhaps I'm just dreadfully low-brow. Perhaps the fact that I don't spontaneously climax at the sight of a pointillist exercise indelibly marks me out as a revolting piece of scum who should be taken into the sewer and shot. But I don't think so. Cast a quick eye around your nearest art gallery, and the one thing you'll notice immediately is the relative dearth of people spontaneously climaxing. They just don't do it. Unless they're being spectacularly discreet about it. You might catch them later on, in the cafe, braying about how marvellous it all was, but look at their faces during the experience and you'll notice slightly less animation than if they were staring at a moderately rococo dog turd.

I'm not saying art isn't good. I'm not saying that historic buildings aren't good. I'm not even saying that anti-Capitalist, experimental poetry scratched into a piece of bark by a weeping hippy isn't good (although it isn't.) I'm just pointing out that, if we're all honest, how many of these things are worth going to see?

It's a rhetorical question.

1 comment:

  1. Samuel Johnson apparently had Tourrette's so probably dissed the Giant's Causeway in a more offensively sweary way. But, in any case, he is wrong. I have been to there and it was very nice. Definitely worth going to see. Although I suppose all things are relative and it depends how far you have to go - a point which Johnson really ought to have acknowledged before coming over all Lonely Planet.