"Give me that old time [whatever]"

Via Hacker News, an interesting article by Linda Holmes, pointing out that there isn’t enough time in the world to see all the works of literature and art:

“After all, you can eliminate a lot of discernment you’d otherwise have to apply to your choices of books if you say, ‘All genre fiction is trash.’ You have just massively reduced your effective surrender load, because you’ve thrown out so much at once.

The same goes for throwing out foreign films, documentaries, classical music, fantasy novels, soap operas, humor, or westerns. I see people culling by category, broadly and aggressively: television is not important, popular fiction is not important, blockbuster movies are not important. Don’t talk about rap; it’s not important. Don’t talk about anyone famous; it isn’t important. And by the way, don’t tell me it is important, because that would mean I’m ignoring something important, and that’s … uncomfortable. That’s surrender.” [Italics hers.]

I understand this. For example, I listen to almost no currently popular music and I watch very little television. I also see few new movies, preferring to watch classic old movies instead.

This is not because I assume all the new things to be worthless, however. I go by the rule of thumb that much of the currently popular stuff is awful, some of it is mildly enjoyable, and a very small portion of it is destined for immortality as great Art.* It seems probable, at any rate. Besides, I’m not absolutist about not seeing or hearing anything new. It’s a general policy, not an iron law.

But why do I choose to spend less time on “current” art and more time on older stuff, and not the other way round? The reason is that I believe it sort of helps you be less susceptible to fads in general. It’s similar to the phenomenon Paul Graham wrote about in his essay “Taste for Makers”:

“Aiming at timelessness is also a way to evade the grip of fashion. Fashions almost by definition change with time, so if you can make something that will still look good far into the future, then its appeal must derive more from merit and less from fashion.

Strangely enough, if you want to make something that will appeal to future generations, one way to do it is to try to appeal to past generations. It’s hard to guess what the future will be like, but we can be sure it will be like the past in caring nothing for present fashions.”

Obviously, the major (but not only) exception to my avoidance of current art is the video game thing. Part of it is simply that I like games and that’s that, but another part of it is that most people don’t think of them as “Art” yet, and I’m hoping to be slightly ahead of the pack on this.

Having said that, I can think of lots of reasons one might choose to ignore old Art and focus on the new. There are pros and cons to both.

*This is why I’m sensitive about people condemning video games as unintelligent, immature, juvenile entertainment. It is true that most video games are just that, but not all of them. Some are truly brilliant, and I don’t like to see them condemned.

What's your stake in this, cowboy?