The Inner Economist goes to the museum
Post #1057 • September 19, 2007, 3:17 PM • 11 Comments
I've been greatly enjoying Discover Your Inner Economist by Tyler Cowen. The book has a chapter entitled "Possess All the Great Art Ever Made," in which he explains how to appreciate art, music and literature based on the reality of our finite attentions. Here he offers four suggestions regarding a visit to the museum. But rather than list them in one overlong post, I'll put them up one at a time for discussion.
1. In every room ask yourself which picture you would take home - if you could take just one - and why.
This forces us to keep thinking critically about the displays. If the alarm system was shut down and the guards went away, should I carry home the Cezanne, the Manet, or the Renoir? in a room of Egyptian antiquities, which one caught my eye? And why? We should discuss the question with our companion.
To put it crudely, we must force ourselves to keep on paying attention. Ranking the pictures focuses our attention on our favorites. It also focuses our attention on ourselves, which is in fact our favorite topic. Me,me, me. It sounds crude, doesn't it? But if the "Me Factor," as I will call it, is operating against the art rather than working with it, our love affair with museums won't last very long.
Finally, it is fun to imagine ourselves as thieves. Theft is exciting, and we value objects more highly when we can think of ourselves as owning them. That is also part of the Me Factor.
Of course, we must ignore the carping of the sophisticates. Well-educated critics may claim that pictures cannot be ranked, value is multidimensional or subjective, or that such talk represents a totalizing, colonizing, possessive, postcapitalist [I think he means "capitalist" - F.], hegemonic Western imperialist approach. All of those missives are beside the point. When it comes to the arts, dealing with the scarcity of our attention is more important than anything, including respecting the artists.