A Love Letter to Bad Art (from a Humanities Major) | Opinion

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I’ve been in a really good place with my reading lately.

By a “really good place” I mean that I actually picked up books and read them on purpose. Many students – especially those majoring in the humanities like me – will know what I’m talking about. When you spend all day reading wordy academic papers and heavy literature, it can be hard to find the motivation to pick up another book at the end of the day. It’s tempting to just scroll through TikTok for an hour instead or rewatch this comfort sitcom for the 40th time.

But this semester, I’ve been reading – really, really reading – in my free time.

Before you get the wrong idea, let me be perfectly clear. I don’t read books that you would write an essay on. Instead, I read books with titles like “Classified as Murder” and “The Quiche of Death.”

Yes, I have read “lowbrow” novels, especially those of the “cozy mystery” variety. At this point, you may be thinking: so what? But for me, it’s a big change. It’s not just the fact that I read these kinds of books; it’s also that I’m talking about reading these kinds of books. Instead of ripping out quick, guilty chapters here and there, or rambling for ages trying to justify my choice of reading material to my confused friends, I’ve been more confident – ​​and defiant – about how which I choose to spend my time. This is part of my recent effort to wholeheartedly embrace the so-called “bad art” in the world and to unlearn the biases that have been instilled in me since time immemorial.

I started this column because sometimes being a literature hub is confusing. We occupy a strange space in which our chosen field of study – art – is both the most accessible and the least accessible discipline. For one thing, everyone consumes art every day. Everyone reads; everyone watches movies and TV, and everyone has an opinion about what they see and consume. There is no barrier to entry for art (or at least there shouldn’t be).

At the same time, the way art is studied at a higher level is far from what you would call easily accessible. It’s not just about sitting down and writing what you think about the books; At least not at first. Like any other formal discipline, in the beginning there are endless layers of high-level theory, specialized language, and dense, challenging concepts to learn. All this means that an interesting phenomenon is occurring: your human taste (what do I like to read and watch?) develops at the same time as your scholarly taste (what do I like to like to read and watch critically?)

That’s fine, for the most part – there’s bound to be a natural overlap between the two. But they can never be perfectly harmonious, and because scholarly tastes will often put human tastes to shame, it becomes very difficult to have a healthy relationship with art, especially “bad” art. When all of our class time is spent on a rigid definition of what constitutes “good” art worth studying, the pressure to have good taste tends to leak beyond the academic framework. When English teachers chat and ask you what you’ve read recently, for example, they expect to hear a headline that has been reviewed by The New York Times, not something with a “BookTok Approved!” sticker on the first page. Likewise, when you tell people you’ve dabbled in writing, everyone expects you to be working on Serious Fiction, not a story about sword fights or space pirates. . In short, for us humanities majors, a constant battle between the scholar and the human occurs, in which there is overwhelming pressure for the scholar to completely swallow the human.

But the problem is that no one can be a scholar all the time.

What my concentration in literature made me forget is that art is not just my academic bread and butter, but my source of healing and entertainment. As I get older and think more critically about what I consume and how I consume it, it has become more important than ever to remember to keep the two categories equal. To be okay with love stories about quiche-themed murders or secret magical investigations in London as much as I love deeply complex and “reflective” musings on the human mind.

It was not an easy path to get here. I’ve abandoned my principles and regressed to arrogant surveillance and lowbrow art pooping many times. Interestingly, these were also the times when I read the least; when I was least relaxed; and when I was most miserable.

So, in closing, a note to all my fellow arts concentrators: take a step back. Don’t fool yourself and blame yourself for honest fun and enjoyment. Take this military space opera novel, this murder mystery set in a cat cafe or this romantic graphic novel about two polite British teenagers.

And the next time someone asks you what you’ve read lately, don’t rush for the latest Booker-nominated title that the scholar in you has come across. Instead, let the human in you respond — and remember to hold your head high as you do.

Lina HR Cho ’23 is a comparative literature hub at Dunster House. His “Bad Art” column usually appears every other Monday.

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