I was eating sweet potato fries and a hamburger (an unusual choice for a girl on a first date, I've been told, but I hate salads) and politely objecting to Right Wing Platitude Boy's characterization of the climate change debate when he let slip the crucial difference, the one thing I knew I could never overcome in a relationship. I smiled, nodded, and thought, I won't be seeing you again. Was it his voting history? His views on women? His previous relationships? His teeth? Oh no, Dear Readers: something much worse, something I could never overlook and, what's worse, something that he meant for us to have in common.
He read Dragonlance novels. I could never fall in love with someone who reads Dragonlance novels. I'm convinced it says several pertinent and important things about their characters and temperament which would be wholly incompatible with my own, including the value of original fantasy literature as art and the importance of not slaughtering forests and contaminating streams to churn out reams of derivative, repetitive, cliched, stereotyped garbage. It's a form of prejudice, but one I think is likely universal--not Dragonlance in particular, but the decisions we make about who people are based on what they like.
Still. Does it work? Are we right? Are we paying attention to the right clues?
An articlePsychology Today ran recently says yes, but with qualifications. You can learn a lot from poking through someone's bookshelves and cd collection--but not necessarily what you think. The whole thing is posted online, but for those of you who on principle never click through to an article on a blog, here's the cliff notes:
1. The Taste Hunters: "Darnielle is high in openness, the characteristic of creative, curious, and imaginative people. Such people tend to be taste hunters—constantly sampling new music, scouring movie reviews for undiscovered gems, and visiting art museums. Their curiosity drives them to explore the world in search of novelty. The living spaces of highly open people contain more books, CDs, and DVDs—and their collections are more eclectic—than their less open counterparts, Gosling has found."
Highly open people are more likely to be artists themselves and have a deeper awareness of what makes for great art. Less open people have more restricted tastes, smaller and less eclectic collections which tend to be composed of what they enjoyed in their youth, and they are usually conservative.
Every time I read this section I think of an interview of George W. Bush I read several years ago, where he admitted to having only fifty songs on his iPod because there were only fifty songs he liked.
Meanwhile, I have 1,999 items on my iPod, from genres such as alternative, hip-hop, soul, country, roots, classical, jazz, folk, pop and celtic. At least half of them are independent. I have books from every section of the bookstore but romance, read magazines on topics from environment to science to crafts to parenting to cooking to politics to writing to arts and others. I'll admit I have little visual art, but that's because I would rather wait until I can afford to buy something original that I really like than fill my walls with a lot of crappy posters. So I'll say that I'm high on the open scale.
Erik was not. He really only enjoyed the music that was popular when he was young and had strong genre preferences in movies and books. They were genres we both enjoyed, but if only I'd known that the interest overlap didn't count; what counts is how much a person is open to or interested in the new or different.
2. Sensation Seekers: "The sensation-seeking style Angelmar embodies is a hallmark of extroverts—lively, active, social people who crave sensory excitement in the art they seek out. You don't have to be a sensation seeker to be an extrovert, but it helps. ... Extroverts' lust for sensation draws them to action-adventure movies and music videos, but also leaves them bored by game shows and news programs, according to a study at University of Lleida in Spain. They watch less TV than most, preferring the spontaneity and excitement of face-to-face social encounters, but their need for constant sensory or intellectual stimulation means they tend to leave the TV on while engaging in other activities such as reading, eating, or even cuddling. Sensation seekers are also particularly drawn to pornographic and horror films."
Extroverts also prefer social artistic expressions, such as concerts. Introverts, meanwhile, take an introspective and critical approach to art and enjoy it so much as possible in their living rooms. No one on planet earth would be surprised to hear that I'm solidly on the introverted end of this one. I haven't seen a music video in years. I hate action movies and horror films and I've never watched porn, nor felt any inclination to. I hate having TV on as background noise. Actually, I can't have any kind of background noise, to the point where when the neighbours are being noisy I put earplugs in to write.
Erik, on the other hand, always had the TV on for background noise. And I would leave the room. And he would get upset, taking it as a personal rejection. And I would get angry because the TV was always on. You can see where this led.
3. The Self-Medicators: "People high in neuroticism—less emotionally stable people who are anxious, sensitive, and easily upset—tend to be artistically creative and gravitate toward emotionally turbulent art, including films, songs, and literature often seen as romantic, according to Burt's research. They decorate their living spaces with inspirational posters bearing messages like, "Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference," or, "Until you spread your wings, you'll never know how far you can fly." These self-affirmations help neurotic people manage their tendency to worry and become blue, explains Gosling. ... The highly neurotic also use art to validate their feelings of sadness, anger, and alienation. Neurotic people are more likely, for instance, to enjoy rap and heavy metal. At the other end of the stability spectrum, even-tempered, easygoing, and optimistic people prefer classical art such as baroque architecture. They respond to art that emphasizes form over feeling and have the emotional stability to appreciate unity and formalistic detail."
I am creative--I like to think--and I do gravitate toward emotionally turbulent art. I love van Gogh. I love Wuthering Heights. Jane Austen is ok but I much prefer Emily Bronte. I love Moulin Rouge. This year on Christmas Eve I will again read A Christmas Carol and it will again make me cry, and I will watch It's a Beautiful Life again and it will make me cry too, and, for that matter, I've been known to cry over Christmas lights. But I have never, nor will I ever, own an inspirational poster, and I obsessively analyze and interpret artistic forms. When I read a novel and come across the crisis moment I will, first of all, notice that I've just read the crisis moment, and then take a moment to note what page I'm on and how far through the book I am to get a sense of how the author structured it. (The crisis moment is the action that kicks the plot into high gear.) All the while being completely swept up in the emotional action of the book. So. Gosling might disapprove, but I'm going to say I inhabit both ends of that spectrum.
I don't think I've ever met someone as compulsive about analyzing artistic forms as I am, a fact Greg can atest to after last weekend's discussion about Being John Malkovich. "No," I said over and over. "The scene with the monkeys has to be there for a reason. It wouldn't be there just because. And they must end up covered in muck for a reason. And the floor must be half-height for a reason. It's expensive and difficult to set this stuff up, they wouldn't do it without a narrative justification."
Erik had a lot of weather photography. None of it bore inspirational mottos, so far as I can recall, but it was of that style and none of it was what I would call art.
4. Art as Decoration: "Nagy clearly fits the profile of a highly conscientious person—dependable, focused, task-oriented people who enjoy order and rules. These people don't enjoy art for emotional regulation or intellectual engagement. Instead, they view art as an external commodity, useful for improving the aesthetics of their living spaces or for relating to people who are truly interested in it.... The conscientious tend to prefer conventional art to modern paintings or other abstract art, and often approach music from an aesthetic distance, with a cold, logical point of view. They tend to focus on the technical proficiency of the artist or the market value of the work rather than on their own emotional reactions."
I can't even begin to understand this one, it's so far away from how I look at art. Not to mention that it doesn't really apply to books. ("Will the typography clash with the drapes?")
5. Taste as a Social Act: "This is the inmost layer of taste formation—using our artistic choices to articulate the story of our lives for ourselves and others. Identity comprises not just the traits that describe us, but also stories about how we became that way, and how we present ourselves to others, explains Dan McAdams, a psychologist at Northwestern University. Tastes are among the primary ingredients in these personal stories."
Since I'd have to actually display my artistic preferences somewhere other than on the blog in order to use that to construct a social identity, I'm not sure this applies to me. Although there was a visitor, once, who looked at the bookshelves and whose eyes opened very wide and who said, in a quiet and somewhat frightened voice, "That is a lot of books."
So to the point that I talk about and display the quantity and variety of books and magazines I read, I'm constructing a social identity of "I know stuff."
I left out the subheading about how IQ influences artistic preferences and choices, since it seems unnecessarily divisive and judgmental, but it's there in the article link if you're interested. Still, not only does the bulk of the article seem to peg me pretty well, but to peg some of the people around me, too, and the ways in which we do or don't get along. Put an open taste-hunting sensation-avoider who has strong opinions about art that have nothing to do with decor and put her into an intimate relationship with a conservative sensation-seeker with no opinions about art except whether they match the decor (and feature lightning) and then wonder, ten years later, why it didn't work out.
I'm curious about you, Dear Readers. Are you a taste-hunting sensation-seeker who self-medicates with inspirational posters? A conservative sensation-avoider with a lot of paintings that match the drapes? What about your families? Did you end up with someone like you, or not, and did it matter?