Cheap Thrills – 4 – Mere Recognition

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?

The Prodigal<br /> Son by Harold Copping


5 Responses to “Cheap Thrills – 4 – Mere Recognition”

  1. markjemilbooth Says:

    I especially like the close up of the prodigal son and his father. This is art at its best. Do these paintings have a copywrite. Am I able to use them on my blog or Facebook page?

  2. David Says:

    I have linked the pictures to their sources, where you can find the relevant information.

  3. markjemilbooth Says:

    Thanks. I may write the artist about this painting. I am sorry I meant to write Copyright.

  4. paul Says:

    I struggle with some of the ideas you are presenting but feel the weight of them. I wonder what the culture of the “elitist”, top-down millennial reign will be. It’s hard to imagine much of what’s going on today, in the culture at large and within the church, being acceptable in that day. I’m guessing you would say the last painting might be in a millennial art gallery, but probably not the other two.

  5. David Says:

    Yes, I suspect most of our entries in the Millennium will be for the Museum of Horrors, and will show up in travelling freak-show collections of worship horribilia.
    You’ve judged rightly regarding my perceptions. I find myself immediately drawn to the first two, but then on closer inspection, it is for all the reasons Kaplan suggests. They are easily recognisable symbols for other things – sentimental ideas about father/son, narcissistic emotions of God’s acceptance of me, and an all too simplistic rendering of the parable. None of this comes because of examining the form, texture, use of light and shadow etc, of the actual paintings. They are schemas that will not withstand that kind of treatment.
    Rembrandt’s repels such casual treatment, it calls for active perception, where more and more meaning emerges as one studies it. In fact, Rembrandt’s aims to change and enlarge our understanding of the parable, not merely remind us of it.

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