I’m going to use a couple of gastronomic examples that I hope will carry over into books, literature, and the process of creating them.
I was astonished to read an article a few years ago about how some millennials were taking the “cult of the avocado” to extremes.
Avocados have officially jumped the shark — and at the hands of their most adoring generation, no less.
. . .
Exhibit A: This bright-green “burger,” which subs out the usual bun for two halves of an avocado. The guys claim it’s one of their most popular menu items, but how do you even eat it?
. . .
A culinary concoction that did make the cut? A peanut-butter-and-jelly-and-avocado sandwich. The Avocaderia guys suggest adding a puree of avocado, lemon juice and agave syrup into one layer of a multitiered PB&J.
“The avocado adds an interesting texture,” Biggi, the restaurant’s CEO tells The Post. “I understand [why someone might be afraid to try it], but I also feel that people who are curious can be rewarded.”
Other such rewards for the brave of heart include avocado and tofu dumplings, pickled avocado and an avocado sponge cake with mint-avocado whipped cream.
There’s more at the link.
You might think that’s bad enough . . . but what came out a couple of months ago puts that in the shade.
Much to the chagrin of broke millennials, there is apparently no ceiling to the rising cost of avocado toast these days.
So far, Tim Bengel, a German contemporary artist, may be the only one to have actually created an avocado dish well worth its weight in gold: a solid gold pumpkin-seeded bagel with arugula, sliced tomato, onion and, the main attraction and raison d’être, avocado.
The sculptural sandwich has been appraised at $3 million, comprised of 27 individual parts that amount to 12 pounds of 18-karat gold. Just one of the auspicious avocado slices upon the shining stack costs an estimated $14,000, according to the artist.
Rightfully, Bengel refers to the stuff as “Green Gold.”
The piece, titled “Who Wants To Live Forever?,” is currently showing at a pro-avocado establishment dubbed the Avocado Club during Berlin Art Week through Sept. 19.
Again, more at the link.
I look at both of those reports, and my reaction is pretty similar. “What’s the point? No sane, normal person would think of an avocado as a replacement for a bun. The two are radically different and can’t substitute for each other in the usual run of things. In the same way, a $3 million gold avocado bagel is nonsensical. It’s using one of the most valuable substances on earth for something that’s dead-nuts ordinary and of no intrinsic value at all. It’s a perversion of the norm . . . so what’s the point?”
On the other hand, there are many who will argue that it’s a form of art. The restaurant is taking a common-or-garden foodstuff and making it into an “art form” by using unusual materials and flavors together. The artist is making an artistic point by using an incredibly valuable material to depict something that is, by comparison, of no real monetary value whatsoever.
I suppose it boils down to what qualifies as art for the viewer. I freely admit I have little or no time for “modern art”, with its nonsensical squiggles, blots and blotches. To me it’s a complete and utter waste of time. On the other hand, there are those who claim to find real merit and artistic pleasure in it, and spend hours wandering through galleries in search of it. Me, I’d rather look at good, realistic landscape paintings, or life studies, or something real. (My modern-art-loving acquaintances will be muttering “Philistine!” under their joint and several breaths right about now…)
So, let’s apply that to books and reading and writing, which are generally accepted as being at least vaguely artistic (as in “the literary arts”). Some people like a particular genre, others don’t. Within that genre, some readers like this or that author, but not another. How am I, as a writer, going to satisfy as many potential readers as possible? If I go off into the weeds, as some do, and write according to my own (sometimes incomprehensible) sense of what works and what doesn’t (as Norman Unmentionable did with his Empress-who-shall-not-be named), I may achieve literary notoriety instead of fame. However, if I want to make a living through my writing, I’d better write to the tastes of a good subset of readers, or I’ll starve.
Let’s take this further. What makes a book a bestseller? What is it that transforms “just another book” into something that grips the imagination (and the wallets) of millions of readers? Can one identify specific qualities, specific “art forms”, in such books, and can analysis teach us what works? Experience would suggest not, because otherwise all of us could apply the formula to our work and retire on the proceeds.
Still, it’s a question worth asking in the field of art as a whole, and extrapolating to books and reading from the wider field. What makes something “a hit” with viewers and/or listeners and/or readers? What is “art”, and what’s merely dreck? How do we distinguish between them for ourselves, not for everybody? How are our own tastes shaped and formed? Are we doomed to like what our parents taught us to like, or will we develop independent tastes? (Pop music tastes in each generation suggests the latter… I still say rap isn’t music at all – it’s noise!)
I guess I’m wandering a little by this point. However, this is a question that’s been on my mind for a while, and I’d like to ask your opinions of it. Have you ever thought about the “literary arts” as arts? How do you see and experience them? Is there a universal norm, a fundamental common reality, something that allows bestsellers to appeal across human boundaries? Are all books to be considered part of the “literary arts”, or are some (for example, comics or pulp novels) merely idle time-passers masquerading as such?
Over to you, readers. Let us know your thoughts in Comments.