Friday, July 16, 2010

Lateral Thought of the Day: How Double Rainbow Video Reminds Me of Art Criticism

One of the things I managed to miss out on on vacation—being all disconnected from the interwebs and all, or at least trying to be—was the surge of popularity around the now-famous viral video Double Rainbow.

This video, embedded above, is hilarious on many levels, with much of its appeal already been summed up by Youtube comments like "Imagine how he would react to a Bag of Skittles," "Gimme some of whatever this guy is smoking," and "weed + too much time out west + camera = this video." (To be fair, many commenters have also acknowledged the emotional courage that could be needed to post a video of oneself crying over a rainbow. Oops, make that a "double complete"!)

Anyway, the video cracked me up for many of the same reasons it cracked millions of other viewers up.

Still, part of what is hilarious about this video is that it captures a phenomenon that can relate to art criticism—namely, a phenomenon where the author is seeing something that a lot of others just aren't seeing. Like, I love the parts of this video where Hungrybear9562 zooms in on the rainbow, as if to show us more clearly the hallucinations that he is experiencing. I think the something similar can sometimes happen in art criticism (albeit on a less intense level!) when a critic thinks a work is totally amazing and goes into more descriptive detail about it to convince the reader of same.

Writing all this down, it occurs to me that it sounds like I'm implying all rapturous art criticism must simply amount to hallucination. And that's not my position. But I certainly have read my share (and likely written my share) of reviews where the critic is literally saying that they are seeing infinity in a work, that the work has taken them to this "other place" beyond space and time. And (at least as a reader) I'm looking at reproductions of the work (or even the work itself) and going like "Dude, really? There's infinity in this painting? I don't think so." Or, more reasonably: "Dude, really? There's infinity in this painting? For everyone as a fact? Um, I don't know about that. I believe you had that experience, but I don't think it's always there for everybody."

In the end, I guess the point that's in common is that it's all about subjectivity. Where Hungrybear9562's experience of seeing infinity/god/the universe in a rainbow is no doubt drug-induced, I guess that what happens in criticism sometimes is that when we sit down with a work and engage with it, when it has certain psychological or visual cues that are meaningful to us—or hell, if we just happen to be on drugs that day—there's the potential to see infinity/god/the universe in that work too. But I guess the point is also that that what we see, and the intensity with which we see it, can come more from within us than from without us.

Anyway, dudes, I'm not going to overthink this one and say "WHOOOOOAAAAAA, IN THIS DOUBLE RAINBOW VIDEO I SAW THE BEST ANALOGY FOR ART CRITICISM OF ALL TIME!!!!! OH MY GOD!!!!! WHAT DOES IT MEAN???" (though I must say the repeated asking of "what does it mean????" also reminded me of reading and writing art criticism). I know to leave this well enough alone now. And know that I should never, ever, under any circumstances bring a video camera with me to the galleries.


sally said...

This is really interesting Leah. A little counterpoint: the rainbow guy is funny, and largely a target for derision, but I honestly think that part of the reason the video has gone so viral is that people can relate. There's something really cathartic about it, and even though the video of the rainbow doesn't evoke the same feelings in the viewer, there is an aspect of empathy at play where we can to some extent imagine ourselves into Hungrybear9562's head space. I'm a big believer in the power of suspension of disbelief. It feels dangerous and out of control to go through the whole 3:30 minutes with him, but it's also a bit liberating. And I wonder if this is not also a role for art criticism: the act of subjective interpretation as another kind of creative act, parallel to the artwork, that opens up yet more (sometimes daring) imaginative possibilities for aesthetic response.

Leah Sandals said...

Hey Sally,

Good point. That is a whole other aspect of this video -- that it does show a deep emotional reaction to this beautiful natural thing, and people are drawn to that catharsis.

I don't know if I completely understand criticism as a creative act, but I can see looking as one. A judgment that reflects some of my own need for catharsis, perhaps!

Leah Sandals said...

I should also say that my husband pointed out that my phrase about "hallucinations" makes it sound like I'm not seeing two rainbows.

I admit, the wording is awkward! So just to be clear... YES, I see two rainbows. NO, I do not see the universal intensity and importance radiating from them like Hungrybear9562 seems to.

And this is what makes it so akin to reading some forms of art crit--physical object seen, check; depth of importance and transcendence experienced in same, uncheck.

joejoejoe said...

I agree with Sally that there's a cathartic empathy in watching this video. Maybe it's the new Media prof in me, but I think this empathy stems from how frustrating it can be to transfer an experience through media. Actually seeing a big double rainbow is actually kind of cool - seeing one on youtube or in a photograph is not. I think Hungrybear's attempt to transfer his feelings though the cold gaze of video so we really GET how really COOL it is, is what's so endearing. At the heart of it is the truth about how bad digital devices really are at conveying meaning.

Leah Sandals said...

Hey Joe,

I appreciate your perspective. I hadn't thought of the whole media-tool angle. I guess sometimes I think of words as an imperfect technology too! Or maybe that's just when they're at my disposal.... : )