Designations of fiction: what do you think of them? What are you reactions to authors Nicholas Sparks and Danielle Steel protesting the labels given to their novels? No, seriously, without the snickering and the eye-rolling?
Publishing professionals talk about the sweet spot where commercial and literary intersect. Authors try to figure out where their work fits. Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Weiner respond to the publicity surround Jonathan Frazen's new book.
This age-old dichotomy between art and popularity rears its head in many art forms. In music, the words "classical" and "pop" seem to do a decent job defining particular types of music. Yet doesn't it seem questionable to put Bach and Debussy in the same lot, and Iron Maiden and Lionel Ritchie in another? And where does jazz go? Straight-ahead jazz, Latin jazz, fusion jazz?
Years ago, I heard a definition of art music that has made me think. It was given by the keynote speaker at a piano pedagogy conference. Speaking to a ballroom full of conservatively dressed piano teachers, this pony-tailed, jean-clad, soft-spoken man described his journey of coming up with a way to think about art music. And this is his conclusion (my paraphrase):
Art music is music that requires knowledge and experience to appreciate.
That works really well for me; even if it may place Iron Maiden next to Bach. And this is not to say music outside this realm has no place. It just means that some music requires work and study to be understood and enjoyed fully.
I am still thinking about whether this definition works as well in fiction. What do you think?
*Please don't shoot me for seemingly denigrating popular art. This is an attempt at speaking with my tongue firmly planted in my cheek. See that bulge on my left cheek?