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Kaplan argues that popular art is formless. It does not possess form in the truest sense. Form in good art, is precisely what invites true participation, creative perception, and diligent interpretation. Good form places demands on us. Its form even arouses a certain amount of fear and tension: we must embrace ambiguity and plunge in, exposing ourselves to the possibility of change. We will emerge from an encounter with good art somewhat changed, our views adjusted, our understanding broadened, our desires shaped.
Kaplan argues that this is precisely the encounter that we want to avoid, and which popular art caters to.
Instead of perception, there is mere recognition. Discrimination is cut off, as we instantly recognise the stereotype. Since we instantly recognise the materials, they are only instrumental, and without inherent value. They merely remind us of what we already know. They are cues to feel what we know we are supposed to feel. The background music in the movie uses melodious strings to signal to us that love is being born, a very different experience to experiencing a serious composer like Prokofiev. The popular art consumer shrinks from the challenge, even perceiving such a thing as a threat to be opposed.
In short, popular art is simple basically in the sense of easy. We cannot look to it for a fresh vision, or turn to it for new directions, or find unexplored meanings.
Which of these paintings refuses a casual or superficial inspection? Which encourage such a use? How do they do that?
Which stimulates a mere recognition, and which calls for active perception? What is it about the form of the paintings that achieves this?
David de Bruyn currently pastors New Covenant Baptist Church in Johannesburg, South Africa. Since 1999, he has presented a weekly radio program that is heard throughout much of central South Africa. He also blogs at Towards Conservative Christianity.