It is a Sunday night. I’ve just spent 9 hours standing in the ridiculous heat checking tickets at a British Superbike Meet and working up (quite frankly) an impressive red face á la sunburn, when I find myself watching Star Wars. And whilst I’ve seen it before, know what’s going on and have seen all of the other five episodes I can’t help wondering why I have decided to watch it?
It is a classic, and I do believe that everybody should watch it before passing judgement (girls included), but this still doesn’t answer my question. Not really one for sci-fi and although I do admire George Lucas’ films, I can’t help but wonder if it wasn’t a classic, and just another B-rated sci-fi would I have so eagerly chosen that channel?
This also lends itself to other literary classics. I’ve read revered books from Jane Austen to J.D Salinger which any rudimental google search will throw up as ‘classics you have to read’, but would I have chosen them if they’d been some obscure book on a Waterstones bookshelf? This is not to say that I didn’t enjoy them, I both admire and question the characterisation of Holden Caulfield, but what I’m really trying to say is that our choices are skewed by what other people have said. This seems obvious I know.
People may hail these things as classics, but this certainly doesn’t mean that they are to my taste. I have more of an affinity to Jenny Saville’s massive and often uncomfortable self portraits than anything that Picasso did. In the dance world, Hofesh’s work thrills me infinitely more times than some of Rambert’s work, and don’t even get me started on some classical music.
In a world where we constantly preach about the quest for modernity, fluidity of ideas and the ability to be an individual, do pre-determined ‘classics’ fit into this worldly view? I want to be able to watch films, read books and see artwork without it being tainted by other people’s views. Without knowing that other people view it as a classic. Without being pressurised into agreeing that it is indeed a great piece of work. Is it too much to ask to be allowed to form my own judgement, to let me decide?
This seems very much evocative of a GCSE poetry class, where you are asked to read a poem and then say what you think it means without being told anything about said poem. But surely this is what should happen? You should be allowed to digest things for yourself and provide a completely unbiased, honest and personal opinion to the arts. Admittedly, upon my first reading of Browning’s ‘The Laboratory’ in my GCSE anthology I completely misunderstood the poem focus, but this is beside the point. Art, all art is supposed to make you think- indeed art is designed to make you think, to provoke an opinion, something that knowing a piece of art is a ‘classic’ unconsciously undermines.