When It Comes to Our Artistic Judgements, We’re All Freshmen
By Cathleen Elise Rossiter
Clark Kellogg: I don’t want to go to Palermo Sicily!
Victor Ray: Have you ever been there?
Clark Kellogg: No, of course not!
Victor Ray: Then you really can’t make an informed judgment, can you, Rodolfo?
– The Freshman, TriStar Pictures 1990, written by Andrew Bergman –
A not-so-long time ago, in a land quite near, my brother went off to college – a young freshman heading to a tiny island off the coast of New York City. Coincidently, that same year, Matthew Broderick did the same thing – on the big screen at least. Shortly before my brother headed south for his orientation, we jokingly purchased the movie The Freshman, starring the aforementioned Mr. Broderick, and watched it as a family to show my mother that she had nothing to worry about (insert filial giggles, nudges, and winks here).
One of my favorite scenes from the movie is the scene when Cousin Vic surreptitiously hands Clark Kellogg a fake Italian passport – a Plan B in the event that the evening’s escapades go awry. I come back to this scene often, particularly when I feel myself becoming closed-minded in the safety of my cocoon-of-the-moment.
In the realm of the creative endeavors of others, our cocoons-of-the-moment wrap themselves around us readily, and often, without notice. We become so caught up in our interior universes, which we rule with the withering authority and dry wit of the Dowager Countess of Grantham, seeing all from the lofty heights upon which Superiority perches. We echo the sentiments of Clark Kellogg when faced with art that challenges us, our way of thinking, our superiority, our surety in life-as-we-know-it, “I don’t want to go to Palermo Sicily!” Like Mr. Kellogg, we have never been to the place to which this confrontational work of art begs us to go. Yet, we think, if we admit that this new world may be worth a visit, may have something positive to offer, we jeopardize the very foundation upon we have established our claim, thereby ceding our rule and authority, our superiority.
Vulnerability is never an easy territory to occupy, yet those who do so reveal their true strength and greatness. Opening ourselves to the possibilities and wonders of new worlds reveals just how confident we are in our abilities to hold onto our homeland by expanding its borders. Opening ourselves up to new ways of seeing familiar things allows us to take in the wider view, the fuller picture to be certain that we are proceeding in the best manner possible for the situation, to be certain that we are making informed judgments.
Even if that judgment is the determination that we honestly do not like the artistic version of Palermo Sicily presented to us, we may move forward, confident in our decision. Remembering that with every artistic encounter we have, we are seeing it anew; that we are the freshman on campus, not the graduating senior, helps to keep our perspective and our minds open to the message we need to hear at that moment. The same artistic work seen at another moment will have another message to give us. As long as we venture forth into the land of vulnerability with a mind open to listening, we will hear the message every time, expanding and enriching our universes along the way.