Should we share our cultural pleasures?

Ellen Peirson-Hagger reflects on the perils of associating art with friends and significant others

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“What do you think of this?” the message will read, and a Soundcloud link will shortly follow.

There are songs – hell, whole bands – that remind me of particular people because of the conversations I have had with them about these sounds. And it’s not just the sounds of the music, but the culture and society behind these creations, and the reason for them coming into being, that I find so exciting to talk about. When I listen to a song or read something fantastic, I often recommend it, to know that I, like the Beats or the Bloomsbury Group, am enveloping myself in a world where artistic ideas are shared. As a writer – someone who thinks about things and then writes, in the hope that people will too consider the same ideas – I couldn’t wish for anything less.

At the same time, I may well know that huge swaths of other people have previously read, or even are simultaneously reading, the same book I have relentlessly been pouring over for days, meticulously noting down all my favourite ideas and phrases. To some extent, my emotions for any one piece of art are hardly unique. The logical side of me is aware that these pieces of art, sent out into the public sphere, are shared amongst us all. But my very personal reaction to one work or another can often stop me from wanting to share it at all. There are thoughts and feelings that can be conjured up by a song or piece of writing that I would never dare enunciate to anyone, lest they be left with a stumbling mishmash of “love” and “wow” without any eloquent talk on the matter.

But this inelegant enunciation of thoughts is hardly the danger. The danger, when it comes to sharing your taste in art, is surely one that may sound feeble: to impart a love for a particular writer, band, filmmaker or artist is to share with another person what moves you most. Thus surely to make yourself most vulnerable. When these great works really are great – when they move you to tears or leave you gazing in awe at a canvas – these creations become stirrers of emotions that could never come about through an art-less existence. This is why we herald “culture” so.

And this sharing may well be good. When revisited, a song reminiscent of happy times with loved ones will only bring joy; at worst, a wistfulness for a time passed.

But associating a tangible human being, who can be found, loved and ultimately lost, with a piece of art that will always remain in its same form, is surely dangerous if the human relationship could change over time. Once you make a mixtape for your significant other or you go to every gig of one particular band with a friend, this music is not your own anymore. Whilst that time lasts, the thrill of connecting real human experience with an ethereal art form is like nothing else. But once a human relationship ends, the music is never quite the same again.

To lose a song, for example, to feel like it is not just yours but tainted with the memory of someone who you no longer wish to remember, feels like a betrayal of sorts. A song is only a combination of waves, after all, but to attach a real-life anecdote with an ethereal entity, to attach a person or an experience, means you will never be able to see the song as the single entity you once did. You may never be able to enjoy a song for its pure musicality, as it will be context that is overriding.

It’s almost worst with words: a lyric from a song or a quotation from a poem. Whenever you see the same phrase – in any context – unavoidable connections will form.

Ultimately, I will always want to share my cultural pursuits and joys with those around me. What good is a book if you can’t discuss it? It’s the incessant associations that I’ll have to limit. And those are hardly a fault of the art itself.

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