Pretty Expectations

The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth
The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth

Can art or story be too pretty to be any good?

I’ve heard people say that art shouldn’t be ugly. I’ve heard people say pretty art has no depth. A story with a happy ending isn’t literature. A story with a tragic ending is pretentious.

What are your expectations when you walk into a museum or open a new book? What expectations do you have for your own work? And how often do you challenge these expectations?

silver trees
silver trees

(We went to the Modern Museum of Art of Fort Worth this weekend–the building and the art were great by the way.)

20 thoughts on “Pretty Expectations

  1. Great questions. I wish I knew the answer. My rookie-ness doesn’t allow me to opine, however, because I’ve only finished one rough draft and haven’t completed the edits. Until I have a few more under my belt, I’m not sure what to think.

    I don’t know if a tragic ending is pretentious any more than a happy ending is cliched. I know the storytelling can make a story sound pretentious, but then, who am I to judge?

    Like with all other art, it’s probably best left in the eye of the beholder.

    1. I had a boss once complain about writers who wrote unhappy endings. He seemed to think that these writers wrote such endings to prove they were deep. While I’m sure that it is true of some, I hardly think it is true of most. But I had this boss in mind when I wrote that question.

      And yes, the beholder ought to have something to do with it.

  2. I expect to be transported by some means from where I am to somewhere else. These expectations are often not met and I feel bored or cheated or both. I love happy endings that are surprises, hate happy endings that have no surprise. Sad endings, ditto.

    For my work? I expect to learn something from the same rapid transit system so well known to writers.

  3. I like art to look like what it’s supposed to represent. Yeah, I’m one of “those.” 🙂

    In books, I like to be entertained. I want to be told a story. I like the good guys to win and the bad guys to die or suffer.

    Glad you had a nice time at the museum. 🙂

    1. I thought about this comment for so long I thought I’d actually written a reply already. Ha!

      You’re certainly allowed to be one of those. I like all kinds of art–representational and otherwise–so I’ve always had a hard time understanding folks who only like art that looks like what it is supposed to represent. But that said, what you like is up to you and there is no wrong way. We all like what we like.

      The museum was fantastic. Loved the building itself and the art inside! That’s a nice combination.

  4. I read for escapism mostly, so I like upbeat books and happy endings. Sometimes a book is so well written that it gets past my defences, like Never Let Me Go (Kazuo Ishiguro) or Man in the Dark (Paul Auster).

    1. Sure, I love a happy ending… but I don’t like fake happy endings. That make sense? I like endings that are not necessarily outright happy, but at least are hopeful. Hate bleak or nihilistic.

  5. [I’ve just deleted two replies. Obviously, this is a tougher set of questions — for me — than I thought it would be when I started typing! I’ll come back a bit later when I’ve gathered my wits. For now, will just say I LOVE the silver trees!]

  6. Pingback: Gratuitous Disingenuousness

      1. PS: didn’t mean to hijack your topic; just didn’t want to dump a gigantic comment here! (Ah, those tricky intentions…)

  7. I love those silver trees! For me, expectations tend to lead to disappointment. The more something is talked up to be the next great thing, the more I seem to be disappointed in it. I guess part of my enjoyment of any art form comes from the delight of being surprised, and usually, I’m surprised by something that makes me think. Pretty can be surprising, a happy ending can be surprising. They can also be dreadfully dull. But a tragic ending and ugly art can be equally boring.

    1. True. My mother-in-law gets annoyed with me when she thinks my expectations are too low, but I am rarely disappointed that way. I really prefer the we’ll-see-how-it-goes approach.

  8. loriaustex

    When I walk into a museum…

    I expect to be, within 30 minutes or so, jumping up and down like a six-year-old who just got seven cookies and a toy (and I rarely disappoint myself).

    I expect to worry the guards because I want to get close enough to the work that I can imagine/feel my hand slipping into the artist’s hand as they made the work, so I can feel muscles large and small move as the artist’s hand move while the object was being formed.

    I expect to find things that make me sneer and mutter under my breath; and things that make me break out into a face-hurting, ear-to-ear grin; and things that make me tear up because they’re just beautiful.

    I expect to find at least one thing I can sit in front of for at least thirty minutes, digging in deeper — the Chinese Ch’an screens in the Amon Carter Museum will do that to me, as will some of the aluminum work by Frank Stella at the museum you went to, as will…well, I do go on.

    Thanks for asking!

      1. loriaustex

        Haven’t been since the Kentridge films were showing — went a few months ago, a day-long road trip with a girlfriend who has a similar happy excitability about visual art.

        By the end of the day we were suffused fat as ticks with art, and the poppy-seed kolaches in West didn’t hurt either.


        If you ever need someone to look at art with, feel free to ping: lwitzel {at} austin {dot} rr {dot} com.

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