Friday, February 27, 2015

On the dress

(image by Alex Tarr)

The latest in silly Internet memes: 
. . . for the past half-day, people across social media have been arguing about whether a picture depicts a perfectly nice bodycon dress as blue with black lace fringe or white with gold lace fringe. And neither side will budge. 

And a relevant counterpoint from my book (Chapter 4):

The point is that while we readily admit there is no one way to understand a work of art, no one manner of perceiving—“all art is subjective” is one of the great clich├ęs of aesthetic dialogue—we ignore the consequences of that statement: that there is, as far as perception goes, never a singular work to agree about in the first place. Instead, we cling to the reified idea of music [or any other artwork], using it, in the worst-case scenario, to police the responses of others, or else, more kindly, to prioritize the overlap in our perceptions—as with, for example, the concert protocol that calls for simultaneous group applause, and the impression of consensus it produces by eliding complexly differentiated responses into a symbolic burst of ostensible mass agreement. 

Alas, perception is fundamentally idiosyncratic—whether were talking about listening, looking, eating, touching, or smelling. The fact that “the dress” (as it has come to be known) has pushed us to argue about what is “really” there proves how uncomfortable we are with that basic truism.