No doubt you’ve encountered the disconnect between art one likes and art one enjoys; I mentioned it myself last Thursday. The basic principle here is that we might like something for its depth and complexity, but not enjoy it on a visceral level, or we might enjoy something viscerally without lauding its inherent structural mastery and societal influence, and of course overlap is frequent. It’s a simple concept, and I think we might benefit from complicating it a little. And when it comes to complicating things, you know I’m always up to the task.

I should note that I got this idea after hearing a talk by Mary Beth Oliver, whose work now represents to me what the empirical, quantitative study of art should do. You should dig up her recent work, if you have the means.

The typical like/enjoy graph would look like this:

The assumption here is that anything toward the bottom left is something you just don’t like much at all. I’d try to favor enjoyment, assuming that most people won’t choose media only because it’s “impressive” in some way, but I don’t suppose there’s much point in fundamentally weighting the graph to account for that.

Problems arise when we consider that “enjoyment” may be too much of a catch-all. What does it mean? Pure, narcissistic enjoyment? Favoring good things over bad is not the only kind of enjoyment there is. What of catharsis? Or sympathy? The enjoyment spectrum may warrant a graph of its own.

“Appreciation” here is still a visceral response. But it’s a response that allows for the idea that unpleasant things can make for viscerally enjoyable art. I enjoy Hidamari Sketch and appreciate Bokurano, but I consider both entertaining on an emotional level.

I don’t suppose this notion will shock many of you; I’m assuming you aren’t crusaders against television and video games as purely narcissistic media, if you’ve happened upon one of my blogs (you probably wouldn’t even consider pure narcissistic enjoyment necessarily bad, nor would I). We already pay some attention to the nuances of enjoyment when charting our responses. But it may benefit us to consider how these nuances interact with the spectrum of “liking.”

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  1. I want to see that enjoyment continuum. Don’t hold back on us now.

    • Pontifus

       /  28 April 2010

      Maybe I’ll fill it out some time, based on my preferences. But I have such a hard time with that sort of thing…

  2. LOL, damn, I had an entry like this — well, more of an idea — in my drafts!

    I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately because “entertainment” is such a vague word. There are so many ways a story can be entertaining — on a purely visceral level, for the amount of thought it provokes, for how well it touches the emotions, all those at once and so on. I’m like you in my watching — Code Geass and, say, 2001: A Space Odyssey are both entertaining in vastly different ways (to say the least lol), but ultimately they’re both emotionally fulfilling in their own ways, even if they take completely different paths to get there.

    • Pontifus

       /  28 April 2010

      I definitely want to see what you come up with in your post, too. This isn’t exactly a simple topic.

      I lol’d a little at your 2001 and Geass comparison. But that’s a good example. It goes to show how, if it ranks higher on our grand continuum, a political thriller manga might matter more to us than Citizen Kane.

  3. People like to use the words “good” “like” “enjoy” “appreciate” &c. to mean the same thing, when, generally, they’re not. This is mostly what drives me nuts as most people seem to think of enjoyment as a linear scale and I tend to think of it as a three-dimensional plotting system in non-Euclidean space.

    This is likely why I cringe with fear every time I hear someone say that the purpose of a review is to have a FIRM OPINION and that if a review has no OPINION then it is a SYNOPSIS and therefore boring, because I am the reader’s advisory sort, more interested in helping you determine whether or not you might like something than being a Font of Firm Opinion. Which means that I might seem to have no opinion when, really, I do, I just care less about it.

    • Pontifus

       /  28 April 2010

      Hell, I have my doubts that a synopsis can be entirely without opinion, purely because it’s made of language. But maybe it can; maybe I’m mixing up explicit opinion and implicit bias.

      I do think that many reviews overlook the sheer number of things people are bound to look for in their storytelling media. We could make an 11-dimension graph dependent upon string theory, and it probably wouldn’t be comprehensive. But, I don’t know; maybe that isn’t the business of a review; maybe the business of a review is saying that “I like/don’t like it, and so may you, depending on how you relate to my tastes.” Though I don’t want to overlook the more neutral kind of review, which is generally what I prefer, at least in terms of usefulness.

      • I fall in with the crowd that believes that, in a truly good review, the opinion of the critic is implicit or tacit, rather than the major focus of the review. That, and W.H. Auden’s assertion that reviewing bad books is not good for the reviewer, as it basically gives the reviewer the license to flout how awesome they are, when (by similar logic) the reviewer should really be saying “this book is better than anything I have to say about it”.

        The business of COMMERCIAL reviews seems to be “I liked it/didn’t like it, and here’s why”, which I find very useful to help me determine what sort of person the reviewer is but it doesn’t generally work very well for when I’m trying to determine what I should read or watch myself.

        But yeah, I think I tend to prefer implicit bias/opinion over explicit bias/opinion, unless I am directly engaged in understanding the person’s tastes, either for myself or to help guide them towards other things they may like. Which is the Nancy Pearl way. (I swear, I’m like a natural-born reader’s advisory type)

  4. Ryan A

     /  1 May 2010

    I’m not really sure about the mixing of visceral and appreciation. Considering all forms of entertainment media, I think music appreciation does maintain a non-visceral aspect. In ways, there are “landmarked” pieces or moments which we must appreciate on a larger scale. This is often due to the effect or influence such works had on following works and perhaps the industry in general.

    Of course, the subjectivity of appreciation does exist (e.g. negative appreciation). A current example would be works which have brought us thus far in the “moe-boom” and those who perceived both the influence and the works in negative light.

    I do believe on some level, we can appreciate on a non-visceral level depending on the core focus we use in “evaluation.” A balancing act.

    • Pontifus

       /  1 May 2010

      What you’re calling appreciation, i.e. the non-visceral components of consumer response, I’m calling “liking.” And it’s probably always present in some capacity — as with everything else. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to neuter logical or intellectual response. The second graph supplements, not replaces, the first.

      You point out an interesting notion: it’s possible to “dislike” something actively — that is, to hold things against it that aren’t related to viscera, or to how much you enjoyed the thing. This makes a lot of sense, but, as with so many things that make a lot of sense, we probably don’t think about it much.

      Anyway, all these components, the visceral and the intellectual/logical/whatever, happen at the same time; in our minds they’re much more interrelated than these graphs are able to indicate, I imagine.

      • Ryan A

         /  2 May 2010

        Yea, I think I was bringing in appreciation as “importance” rather than “attraction.” If the medium was historic moments, we could definitely have ones we like/dislike/appreciate, but then there are some we cannot deny as being significant among all events.

        The typical university music appreciation course is less about “liking,” and from that I suppose we have two different connotations for appreciation … orz

        It’s all good though :)

      • Pontifus

         /  2 May 2010

        Well, it’s more like I’m using “liking” in kind of an inappropriate way, as it usually is just used to refer to visceral response. I do mean by it here the appreciation of historical significance and that sort of thing. Though perhaps we should divide non-visceral liking into a two-axis graph of its own, i.e. respect for cultural context and respect for structural “mastery”…dammit this is confusing now. I’ll have to think about that. tl;dr we do a lot of things when we like/enjoy something, some more than others depending on when and where we are :p

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