Dig Deeper

I am not very fond of eating food. I find the routine inconvenient and the act itself with a low ceiling of enjoyment. That being said, watching The Great British Bake-Off showed me how food can not only be about taste and texture (and required sustenance), but also form, composition, presentation, patience. I may still eat microwave ramen alongside pita bread and hummus for lunch every weekday, but I have at least been given the tools needed to enjoy the depth of a meal, should the occasion arise.

Perhaps you’ve had that disappointing conversation with someone about a piece of art you are quite fond of. You can recant all the careful details, intricate references, and compelling commentary, and yet they find a singular point of dismissal (e.g. criticizing the unbelievable nature of the plot), dismissing the work entirely. Were you frustrated that they couldn’t see the value you did? Maybe you more relate on the other side of the conversation, exasperated at the contrived practice of “over-analysis”.

If I may defend close reading of art, it would be from the argument that there is no loss from doing so. To extract the implications of a word choice pattern in a poem you already find simply “pretty” is to potentially discover something even more nuanced beyond that surface level feeling. Shakespeare wasn’t the first person to use irony to imply layers of meaning; the forces at work behind any creative person combine the entire history of a technique with the unique composure of a peculiar, 1-in-a trillion human. Screenwriters, illustrators, drummers, cinematographers, chemists, and bakers are often more clever than what’s given at first glance.

Casting a wider net upon your world view will not only bring greater appreciation for all sorts of things, but it will allow you to communicate with others with the enhanced ability to listen and share. Toss aside gut-level judgement and posture of taste. Interpretation of art is highly subjective, so rather than always finding a way to establish “what’s actually happening” or a hierarchy of one artistic work beside another, relish in differences of perspective and opinion, in the opportunity to learn something new about the world and the person you’re communicating with.

I want to encourage people who are considering these ideas for the first time to take it slow. A gradual approach will let you develop your own methods for observation and contemplation at a comfortable pace. There is no need for an essay of critique the first time you watch the new Star Wars; start your exploration of deeper analysis by branching off of what you already feel confident in observing. If your peers have already started on this journey, they should be patient with you. The process is unending. You’ll be learning your whole life.