Now, saying “X took me out of the story” doesn’t mean that “Until X I thought that the story was real and then all of a sudden I got dumped back into reality”, which is what both Steven and Dave are arguing, but rather that “X broke the mood” or that “X broke the rules”. […] saying “X took me out of the story” isn’t so much about breaking “suspension of disbelief” or puncturing an illusionist surface as it is about an audience member feeling that the art maker has broken the rules of a game they were playing or that the art maker has failed to properly set up or cue a change in these rules.
In fact, I have witnessed people use the phrase to mean, “Until X I thought that the story was real and then all of a sudden I got dumped back into reality.” (Not that I can point to specific examples of people using the phrase with such a connotation, so take my claim with a grain of salt if you don’t have your own anecdotal evidence to back it up.) On the other hand, J.W. is correct in suggesting that I should not have yoked the phrase so securely to the illusionist school of experiencing art implied in the phrase “willing suspension of disbelief.” J.W.’s explanation of the phrase probably applies more often than not.
But I think what is underlying what both Steven and Dave are saying is their belief that being truly engaged with a work of art means analyzing and interpreting it. I even get a sense that they feel that an audience has a kind of moral imperative to analyze and interpret a work of art, or that this kind of analysis and interpretation is morally superior to old-fashioned “appreciation” of art works. […] Steven and Dave, of course, aren’t alone. Their kind of analytical criticism is practiced throughout academia. Personally, I think that this almost obsessive focus on analysis and interpretation has led to a whole bunch of “art critics” who don????????t have anything resembling traditional aesthetic sense. By approaching works of art merely as a group of symbols that need to be decoded in order to discover their “meaning”, these critics have cut themselves off from being able to appreciate the beauty of, to take pleasure in, or to be moved by a work of art. In fact, it becomes impossible for them to differentiate between, say, a Willem De Kooning painting and an advertisement for toothpaste. After all, both the painting and the advertisement are equally suitable objects for critical analysis and interpretation.
Ooh. A De Kooning painting and a toothpaste ad? In my defense, I’ve never done critical analysis of a toothpaste ad—nor a De Kooning painting, for that matter. A De Kooning painting and a toothpaste ad, equally suitable objects for critical analysis? Hardly! (Which is not to say a toothpaste ad isn’t suitable for critical analysis—maybe it is sometimes.)
But I’m not talking about paintings or toothpaste ads, I’m talking about works of narrative art which, more often than not, have large verbal components. So what does constitute “old-fashioned ‘appreciation’” of narrative art, if it doesn’t include interepretation and analysis—however informal and schematic?