Art is a means of self-expression, obviously, but it’s also — perhaps most importantly — a way of making sense of our world. At its most basic, it is meant to entertain, enlighten, and enrich our lives. I think as upper-level arts students / critics / appreciators, we can sometimes forget this basic intention. Art does not need to be complex, challenging, heady, abstract, and deep to be “art.” It can be, but it doesn’t have to be — and in fact, art that is those things... runs the risk of being elitist and exclusionary. Art that is those things runs the risk of failing to do the very things we turn to art for.
I’m not saying all artists need to sell themselves out to a mass audience. We needn’t all be teenybopper pop stars with trendy hairdos and silly slogans. I’m also not even saying I think Stuart McLean is “the best” Canadian writer (whatever that even means). But I am saying he’s my favourite, and I think that’s a distinction that too often gets forgotten. It seems to me, too, that throughout my post-secondary education, I’ve been nudged towards works of art that profoundly affect the head, and have been discouraged away from works that profoundly affect the heart. Maybe the best works do both — probably the best works do both — but I’m not sure it’s fair to prioritize one effect over the other. What I do know is I’ve walked around this city, listening to Stuart McLean read the words he’s written, and have had tears roll down my cheeks. That is a more pronounced effect than any of the texts on any of my course syllabi have had on me.
- Ryan Gaio, from his post "In Defence of Stuart McLean" on The Fiddlehead's blog. You can read the whole thing here.