We don’t have to agree to appreciate art

Posted: 24 January, 2012 in writing

I’ve just watched a wonderful documentary on the artist Jean-Michel Basquiat (another timeless artist who died at the far-too-young age of 27). It was so great to watch the story of his rise in the art world and see footage of him at the beginning of his career.

While I loved a lot of Basquiat’s art that was featured in the documentary, there were also some pieces I didn’t like. But that doesn’t mean I don’t think he was a great artist and in no way does it diminish my admiration for him.  I think every truly great artist has produced work that is loved by some and loathed by others.  Some of my favourite music artists have written songs I don’t particularly like. That doesn’t mean I don’t still think they’re great musicians.  And there are definitely writers whose work I generally love but who have produced something I’m not too keen on.

I need to remember this as a writer. Not everything I write is going to be good, or liked by whoever is reading it. That’s ok. I’m not writing for approval, I’m writing because I love writing.

I think the difference with writers is that they are often judged on the content of their writing more than the quality of their writing. Some people say they don’t like a writer’s work because they don’t agree with what is being said in the work. They think they have to agree with what is written in a book or article to say they like it. I disagree with that.  Photographic artists sometimes get the same criticism – people are so busy judging the subject of the photo that they miss the fact that it’s still a great piece of art.

I think of writers like Salman Rushdie and the incredible response to his book The Satanic Verses. When I read this book I remember wondering what all the fuss was about because I wasn’t familiar enough with the Islamic religion to see the offence.  I’m kind of glad I was able to read this book without that knowledge because I was able to see the writing (which I loved) and the story (which I also loved) as the work of a talented writer.  I guess many in the western world would feel the same after reading Christopher Hitchens’ God is Not Great. I disagreed with so much in this book but I enjoyed it anyway because he was such a good writer. Even fiction classics have been banned purely on the fact that some disagree with the subject of the book. Some of these authors have gone down in history as the best writers of their time because, thankfully, there were many who were able to admire the writing without getting caught up in the right and wrong of the topic being covered.

There will be things I write that some will disagree with and there will also be things I read that I don’t agree with. I accept that. But for me that’s just another part of the challenge of writing that I love.


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