Sunday, July 27, 2008

Art Controls Your Brain

Oscar Wilde's wonderful essay "The Decay of Lying" takes a really interesting look at the importance and functions of art. It's a short piece, and certainly well worth reading. Wilde understands that art, in its truest sense, occurs in the theater of the mind. My favorite line, oft-selected as my google-message for the world to see, goes a little something like this:
Things are because we see them, and what we see, and how we see it, depends on the Arts that have influenced us.
There are a bunch of different ways to think about this sentence but probably my favorite is the direction Wilde takes later in the essay, as he explains that, sure, the clouds over the Thames in London existed well before the painters started depicting this cloud/river scheme. But this landscape was perceived by people (and remember, Things are because we see them) in a very different way after it was painted. The scene itself had maybe little to do with the paintings, but what people thought about after seeing the paintings was changed possibly forever.

I don't think this is an isolated example. Just today for instance, I was cruising around town with a few Publishing School classmates and someone mentioned that the song playing on the radio (which I can't for the life of me remember what it was) always reminded her of
Animal House. Perhaps even more poignantly, a few minutes later some song called Windy started playing. I had never heard this song before but I immediately recognized it as the basis for Schlock Rock's Rashi song. Schlock Rock's version of the song is so ingrained in my brain that I am unable to hear any other rendition without thinking of Rashi.

There are tons more instances I can think of: I never liked sweet potatoes until I read The Power of One, in which the main character goes into these like long discourses about the delicious steam of a hot sweet potato rising off the plate on a cold day. Infinite Jest is set in this tripartite schematic, one portion of which occurs in junior tennis academy. I'm awful at tennis, but that doesn't keep me from desperately wanting to play every time I walk by the tennis courts on the way to publishing class. There's this car-stereo star near my house called Illusions. Every time I drive by that place I deepen my voice, say the name of the store and add a ", Michael. A trick is something a whore does for money."

These may seem like pretty insubstantial examples, but controlling what I think is pretty damn powerful.

What art has influenced the way you think? (The comments would be an excellent place for this discussion.)

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