Following up on this post: Paul Berman responds to Mark Oppenheimer’s foolishness. Oppenheimer replies, repenting his glibness but not his foolishness. He claims to be the only thirty-nine year old classical music fan he knows, but with fans like these, who needs haters?
Quite by coincidence, this recent post by Terry Teachout is highly relevant. In it he writes:
What’s in evidence here, I think, is something bigger, something that goes to the heart of our national character. In America you can be thought perfectly well educated without knowing much of anything about the arts. I’m acquainted with any number of board-certified intellectuals whom I doubt would recognize the names of (say) Samuel Barber, Helen Frankenthaler, Frank Loesser, Lynn Nottage, Walker Percy, Preston Sturges, Paul Taylor, or Lester Young. Nor would they blush to have that fact pointed out to them. For such folk, the life of the mind is a calling that need not encompass the arts. They read histories, biographies, and books about current events, not novels, and they’re rarely if ever to be found in concert halls, theaters, or museums. It’s my guess that the National Book Awards, like the Pulitzer Prizes, have a natural tendency to reflect that collective preference.
Why should this be the case? Because ours is a youngish country with shallow cultural roots, one in which art has traditionally occupied a place well off to the side of the mainstream of American life. Even when we pay attention to the arts, our perspective on them is like as not to be utilitarian, not aesthetic.
A utilitarian perspective, exactly Oppenheimer’s limitation.