Professions that involve issuing prescriptions have always been essential. Indeed, these are the job of doctors, teachers, booksellers, museum guides, gallery owners, art critics – helping us choose what to read, what to see and what to hear.
Today as well as tomorrow, in this cluttered world, nothing will be more important than having those who can prescribe something in order to help us save time, to navigate the immensity of the real and virtual libraries that surround us.
Today’s technologies add a new dimension to prescriptions: algorithms are getting better and are continuously improving at prescribing what they believe to be our tastes, or what we need to do to respect certain norms. They bend to our desires and our needs. It is out of the question for these algorithms to make us discover things that surprise us. It prefers to just take us back to the norm. In a very real sense, it is how online shopping sites operate. It is also how today’s dating sites operate in order to save time for their users.
It is essential that we return to more humane choices that are more daring and least expected. We must open up to unexpected, unknown and distant cultures that, a priori, nothing prepares us for. This is especially true for the arts. And to put this in practice, in a book written in French to be published in the coming days, (“Les Chemins de l’Essentiel”, Fayard), I wrote about an established list of 10, 30 and 100 novels, films, musical productions and essential works of art from all the cultures of the world, that everyone should know for their own good; I encourage everyone to do the same for themselves and for others: nothing is more enlightening than creating your own lists ; then to set forth the favourite choices of your relatives, or of those we would like to know better.
Nothing is more wonderful than to make those we love discover masterpieces.
We can even take another risk, perhaps undertake a riskier exercise:
Since we create lists of what not to eat or drink, (as delicious and tempting as it may be), we can also create a list of so-called important works that we strongly advise others not to lose their time to read, see or listen.
It is quite predictable to recommend that someone sees Guernica, or listens to Beethoven’s 9th or reads “War and Peace”. However, it is rather more difficult to go up to 100, for all categories, for all cultures.
There is no doubt that it is more controversial to display masterpieces, which are recognized as such, but that we do not like: Confronting a consensus is more difficult than reinforcing it.
I also took a risk, in the above-cited book: I recommend with much enthusiasm not to read “Ulysses” by James Joyce, from whom I love “Dubliners”; not to listen to “Le Marteau sans maître” by Pierre Boulez, such an amazing conductor; not to linger over a recent work by Damien Hirst; and to avoid “Uncle Boonmee”; the astounding winner of the 2010 Palme d’or at the Cannes Film Festival and a generally discerning work.
These two lists (the favourites and the loathed) are not necessarily partitioned: An all too common occurrence is that men and women often fall in love with someone whom they loathed at the beginning. Similarly, a work that is initially rejected could end up entering our personal pantheon.
In fact, one is never far from the other: in art, as in love, everything is emotion; and nothing is worse than indifference.