Francine Prose considers the reasons we lose interest or appreciation in the art we once cherished:
We may also lose our early love for works that we only later realize are so marred by clichés, populated by stereotypes, and repulsively bigoted that we can no longer enjoy them, even if we make allowances for the attitudes of the period in which they were created.
Not long ago, I watched the 1943 film version of Somerset Maugham’s The Moon and Sixpence, a novel based loosely on the life of Paul Gauguin. As a child I’d loved the cinematic depiction of the painter’s romantic flight to—and tragic death in—the South Seas; I think it may have been one of the things that made me want to become an artist. But this time I noticed that the tag line on the cover of the DVD was “Women are strange little beasts,” and that the movie suggests that these little beasts need to be kept in line and properly subservient by whatever means necessary. Once our hero arrives in Tahiti, the depiction of the islanders and of the girl who is given to him as a wife is appalling.
I’m reminded of the fact that my enthusiasm for Gauguin crested around the same time as my affection for Magritte, while my admiration for Gauguin’s housemate, Van Gogh, has grown steadily over the years. For reasons I cannot explain—it’s the mystery of art—Van Gogh’s work seems to me more inspired, more beautiful and moving each time I see one of his canvases.
For related reading, check out the popular Dish thread “When Childhood Classics Aren’t Innocent.”
(Image: Warhol’s Marilyn Diptych, 1962)