By | Monday, November 05, 2007 Leave a Comment
I was talking with Mom last night, and she brought up the Charles Schulz biography from a week ago. She'd always liked Peanuts in part because she grew up with it. She remembered when it first began running in the local paper, and how wildly different it was from everything else she'd seen. So Mom was interested to see some of the things that went into the production of the strip.

But her one complaint was that now she knows too much. She still reads Peanuts every day, but for the past week since viewing the documentary, she's had difficulty reading the strip at face value. She can't help but see Sparky's first wife in Lucy now, and begins wondering at what must have been going on in his life when he wrote any given strip. Plok was thinking along these same lines last week as well.

For me, though, I'm quite interested in this type of thing. I realized back in college that if I have more knowledge about the actual creation of a piece of art, the more I can appreciate it. I've always been a big fan of the classic Warner Brothers cartoons, for example. But I enjoy them more after having spent some years digging through music archives to find the original songs modified and used throughout many of the toons. (In the case of Warner Brothers, in particular, I in fact became quite fond of Tchaikovsky after listening to his 1812 Overture in full.) Likewise, with comics, the more I understand what went into their creation, the more appreciation I have of them.

The trick, it seems to me, is in being able to distinguish from the creator(s), the creative process, and the final creation. It's easy to see when that does NOT occur in somebody's thought process; how many message boards are littered with blatantly derogatory comments aimed at creators whom the message writer has never met? How many people have sworn off John Byrne or Dave Sim because of some of their comments unrelated to their work? The work, regardless of the opinions of the individuals behind it, should stand on its own merits (or lack thereof). Whether or not Leonardo da Vinci was a homosexual -- regardless of your beliefs of the homosexuality in general -- has no real bearing on the artistic mastery with which he painted The Last Supper or Mona Lisa.

That said, though, studying da Vinci's life and/or his painting techniques can put his work into better focus. It might seem like something of a contradiction, but it goes back to separating the creator from the creation. As I sit down and read Peanuts (or any comparable work), I mentally go through the strip twice. First, I go through and read strictly on the basis of its own merits. Then I read through it again to appreciate the context in which it was created. While this may sound like double the work for a single comic strip, I've found that the second "reading" is in fact just replaying the strip in my head rather than a formalized and actual second reading.

In effect, the two readings provide two decidedly different types responses. One is more intuitive and emotional, and the other is more academic and intellectual. While they are not mutually exclusive, they do generally require some level of distinction. This lack of distinction winds up being a significant reason "flame wars" occur: when one party is not able to separate their emotional and intellectual responses. I saw this played out last night in a documentary on 9/11 -- where conspiracy theorists were trying to persuade relatives of the 9/11 victims to believe in the veracity of their conspiracy claims. Whether or not the conspiracy theorists were/are right on any accounts, the events of 9/11 are so emotionally charged, especially for relatives of the victims, that there's almost no chance they can listen to ANY argument on a strictly rationale level.

So, do I have a secret for making the distinction and/or separation needed for this type of thinking? Not at all. I think it just happens to be the way my mind is hardwired. I've always been able good at compartmentalizing information pretty readily. (Indeed, sometimes I'm too good at it, and it's gotten me into trouble from time to time!) I wouldn't necessarily advocate trying to readjust your whole mindset to think along those lines, but it might be an interesting experiment if you gave it a shot with something simple and familiar, like Peanuts. You never know; maybe you'll find that you get a deeper appreciation for something.
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