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My “English” education: Oh how you leave me toiled and troubled

Rose Cora Perry | Interrobang | Opinion | January 11th, 2010

Editorial opinions or comments expressed in this online edition of Interrobang newspaper reflect the views of the writer and are not those of the Interrobang or the Fanshawe Student Union. The Interrobang is published weekly by the Fanshawe Student Union at 1001 Fanshawe College Blvd., P.O. Box 7005, London, Ontario, N5Y 5R6 and distributed through the Fanshawe College community. Letters to the editor are welcome. All letters are subject to editing and should be emailed. All letters must be accompanied by contact information. Letters can also be submitted online by clicking here.
There's a reason I changed my major. As much as I love good old Billy S., Dickens, the Bronte sisters, and even Christie, I just couldn't do it anymore. I couldn't justify pretending to “read” into something that I didn't know for sure was even there or for that matter if it was, allotting significance and deeper meaning to it that the creator of the work may or may not have actually intended. After two and half years of studying English at the post-secondary academic level, I came to the following conclusion: analyzing literature (or art in any form) is a means by which members of white upper class Christian-based societies continue to exert their superiority over the common (so-called “uncivilized”) folk. While this may seem like a rather controversial and accusatory claim, I ask you to contemplate the following queries with what I've just stated:

1. If we did NOT live in a Christian-oriented world, would religious imagery “appear” so widely illustrated among our art or rather are we only drawing allusions to religion through art's imagery because of Christian doctrine's dominance in our society? Call it a case of the familiar “chicken and egg syndrome,” but what I'm getting at is that, if we lived in a Muslim society, for example, our art would likely supposedly illustrate constant allusions to the Koran.

2. Can art NOT just be art for arts' sake? No deeper meaning, no metaphors, but rather a “what you see is what you get” mentality? In the words of Andy Warhol, “sometimes a banana is just a banana.”

3. Further on imagery: I sincerely wonder if the artists themselves were ever the original crafters of the supposed symbologies that have been assigned to their works. For example, did the creators of the movie, The Matrix pen Neo's character intentionally to reflect Jesus and his traversing through the Stations of the Cross? I guess I just find it hard to believe that the inclusion of such complexities and deeper meanings, while still in the process of creation, could result in the rendering of anything natural and fluid from a creative standpoint. I would think that if such notions were clouding my mind, anything I created would seem mechanical and forced.

With these postulations considered, it seems to me that “art criticism” is an invention of the elite classes promoted for the sole purpose of maintaining separation (and importantly, hierarchy) between society's groupings. Moreover, art criticism serves as a means to justify one group's supposed intellectual dominance over another's (because they “get it” or at the least have been educated to get it), and thus justify notions of hegemony, along with its associated disparity of conditions/wealth/resources among different classes. However, considering its origins date back to classical times where sexism, racism, and slavery (among other social ills) were rampant, I guess I shouldn't really be that surprised. I'm more surprised that it remains a staple academic discipline in our so-called liberal and egalitarian modern society.

I mean, it is not as though we have the minds of the greats of the past at our disposal to interrogate regarding the supposed deeper meanings of their works? So then, how the hell is it we are coming up with the ideas that Frankenstein is actually about Shelley's opposition to technological advancement and industrialization, or that Golding's Lord of the Flies is actually about Satan's temptation of mankind into debauchery?

Sure, context and the biography of the artists undoubtedly play a key role in terms of coming up with these interpretations, but in reality, we can never be 100 per cent sure we are getting it right, unless we are able to consult the creators directly. But even then, some of my profs went so far as to assert that it's not about what a given artist intended, but rather what the work actually does. Suffice it to say, I'm not so sure I buy that.

While I don't want you to get me wrong here - I value my education and the fact that it has afforded me the opportunity to widen my perspective. I guess my problem is that certain interpretations (i.e.: the ones that our professors dictate to us) are purported as “more correct” than others, when in my view, art is, quite simply, what YOU make it.

One's interpretation of the deeper meaning behind any piece of art is entirely a personal experience — based on that individual's values and perceptions of their world, along with how they see themselves in it. Moreover, as psychological studies have long demonstrated, we are attracted to ideas, and concepts that reaffirm our sense of self.

With this said, I don't believe that art is intended to be torn apart or justified, but rather, art is to be adored and appreciated in simple silence for its sheer and natural beauty that only the senses may derive from their initial glance, taste, sound, or touch. The reason as to why we have such a diversity of artistic expressions is merely so that there is something that suits everyone's tastes, irrespective of what they are getting out of it.

And thus, my view is as follows: art is neither inherently good nor bad in connotative or denotative terms, nor can it, in it of itself, possess religious or satanic references (these ideas must be assigned to a piece by someone in a position of power/influence). Therefore, one's perceptions of art CANNOT be right or wrong because art is internal — art is WITHIN oneself. Art is expression — either expression of self or a vision of expression of self sought through another's work.

And so, the next time your English prof tries to tell you what a given work truly means, or the next time you visit a museum to view an exhibit, I harken you to make what YOU will of art, NOT let others tell you how to experience it.
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