I read an interesting piece at Wine Spectator Online today by writer Matt Kramer. He is a fascinating wine writer, though I don't always agree with him (well, not very often at all actually) but I find his positions to be thought provoking, challenging to my own ideas.
The article begins by quoting NYT writer, Eric Asimov on the confidence beer drinkers have about enjoying the beverage vs the anxiety wine consumers have about wine. Where it gets interesting is when Kramer brings in Adam Gopnik's critique of "elitist" wine writers. Kramer does a good job of taking down Asimov and Gopnik's arguments but the analogy of wine writing to contemporary art criticism got me thinking.
OK, so having a dual life as a wine educator/retailer and a contemporary artist that actually reads Artforum. I think that just might make me qualified to chime in on this one.
I believe it is true that you can gain more pleasure through knowledge. Here I'm talking about wine, art, music, poetry, etc. I get more out of wine now than I did 15 years ago. I also get more out of music since I've learned more about how music is constructed. But one thing I find is true, I don't usually decide something that I did not like initially all of the sudden becomes better because I came to understand it more.
Around the age of 13 or so, I first read T.S. Eliot. I'm not sure that I understood much of it but I was intrigued by it. Over the years, I kept coming back to his work and by my senior year of college, I had dove deep into his world, creating a suite of paintings based on his life and work. Clearly, my appreciation grew with knowledge but from the start, I knew his work was great.
So take wine, many of my colleagues prefer wines that some would define as sophisticated. These wines may have mineral or earthy characteristics. As a guy selling wine, this is how I describe them to customers. To friends, I would say they tasted like rocks and dirt. No amount of elevated understanding will cause me to like these flavors. I know people that do naturally prefer wines like these, but for the most part, wine geeks "grow" to like these wines.
I'm pretty sure I know what Paul McCarthy is doing but I find his work to be ugly and well, kind of stupid. It has been a long time since art has shocked me, so let's go with stupid. Likewise for Jeff Koons. Never once did I think these guys were making great art. Money- yes. Art-no. Somewhere some tastemakers decided this was good art and we are expected to fall in line. In art, as with wine, I believe in trusting yourself.