Interest in art increases with age?

Mixing memory provides a thoughtful summary of what are basically some meaningless numbers culled from getting a bunch of bloggers to take a political compass test and an IPIP personality test. Like him i can’t get too excited about the results that it presents but i won’t let that stop me commenting on just one aspect.. since i am not claiming that my own idea is anything more than very very very highly speculative.

Chris observes that there is almost a correlation between interest in art and age.

Since the interesting correlations were between the personality variables and the two political compass scores, I’ll focus on those. I will quickly note, however, that there were no statistically significant correlations between the personality variables and either age or sex, though the correlation between age and artistic interest (.21) was pretty damn close. It indicates that as people got older, their artistic interest grew. Don’t ask me what that might mean (young people and their terrible music! bah!).

I was thinking about this on my own personal anecdotal level a few weeks ago whilst drifting round a museum.. I thought back to how boring museums seemed when i was younger.. especially art museums.. and it was very striking to realise that this is in quite a contrast to how much i get out of them these days.. Looking around at the equally aged fellow museum-goers, I decided that this was a general trend. One that is tenuously supported by this (cough cough) ‘data’.

So what might be the explanation? I think it is something like this.. When we are young, we are naive in many, many ways. We cannot help it, so far we lack a lifetime of experience (because we are in the middle of acquiring that experience.) To our young brains the world is a very rich and complex place and so by contrast the fairly repetitive, subtle and conceptual qualities of museum art are somewhat boring to us.. they are lost in the noise of all the rest of our experiences..

As me mature we systematize the world and become experts at taking the world for granted.. as indeed we should because we’ve learnt lots of true facts about it. And so there are many consequences, time passes subjectively much faster as we age as each day and each hour is so much more like previous ones than they used to be in our vivid and novelty-filled youth. Our boredom threshold increases as we become used to seeing the same/similar things again and again.. but also assuming we haven’t entirely lost the enjoyment of novelty and learning.. we need to look more deeply to find it.

And that is what art claims to be all about.. finding aesthetic rules and representational ideals by building on long experience with the world and how we percieve it. We can’t really understand this game until we have played it a little ourselves, until we have some preconceptions that we can examine and question. At eight years old you are still trying to form those initial theories, at 18 you are still forming those theories, refining your views.. It’s not until a few years later when your own view point has established some stability, is it possible for you to externalise it, see it in comparison to others.. To become meaningfully self-reflexive.. although the older you become the more of a challenge this is, because you are working against a background of increasing self-confidence, certainity, conservativism (small and large ‘c’s).

You go to an art gallery or a concert and you have a vast range of previous artistic encounters to compare it with, the surprises are harder to come by, your standards are raised (ignoring for now what on earth i might mean by that) you must become more invovled, more interested to be able to get anything out.. and what’s more you are motivated to because you get so few surprises in everyday life. The subtleties matter to you.. you are in a position to appreciate them.

To take an extreme example, that might illustrate the case a little better: consider taking a toddler to the museum.. it doesn’t know any better that the iron grill in the floor is not the interesting thing to look at, or the light switches, or the gilded frames of the paintings.. In fact, to a toddler these are all geniunely interesting and worthwhile things to look at. So we should not be surprised if the little terror pays very little attention to the art on the walls and quickly gets bored or room after room of light switches, gilded frames and renaissance masterpieces.

Or consider Cubism, it really doesn’t make any sense to and there isn’t much point to it, you unless you have previously seen the world and it’s representations in a certain way. It requires a body of prior experience and understanding before you can appreciate what it is a reaction to.

At least, that’s my perspective!

About Caspar Addyman

Caspar is just one monkey among billions. Battering his keyboard without expectations even of peanuts, let alone of aping the Immortal Bard. By day he is an infantologist, by night he runs
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