Developing Aesthetic Fluency

Note: This post has been automatically imported from my old blog. Formatting may be incorrect.

Over recent month's, I've been increasingly dissatisfied with my relationship to artistic and aesthetic concerns. I read fiction, watch TV and movies, listen to music, and occasionally take time to appreciate photography, painting, theatre, and dance, and I consider those things important parts of my life. But I think for the most part (with partial exceptions for literature and cinematography) I lack a sophisticated understanding of how the art I consume functions, what is good or bad about it, what it is trying to do, etc. I do have preferences, but I often can't describe or predict them, and I suspect much of what I don't like is largely due to lack of understanding and that a more involved and nuanced approach would enrich my experiences across the board.

When we were in school at the University of Rochester, Alyssa and I were both taking voice lessons for credit at the Eastman School of Music. One of the requirements was to attend a certain number of performances/events and do a brief write-up on them. I don't remember many of the specific details, but we decided to go to a master's thesis presentation on some classical composer together. The presentation started out by grounding us in the composer's historical context and went on to describing what he was trying to do with a specific piece in particular, with a lot of references both to specific technical aspects and to overall structure and context in his larger body of work. I had never really appreciated classical music, but with the framing provided by the lecture the piece he ultimately played was simply breathtaking. The intellectual understanding significantly enriched and added to the emotional and sensational aspects of the experience, and I can't remember ever feeling anything like it.

I think the first step I want to take toward making experiences like that more a part of my life is to start gaining an understanding of how it is people talk about and conceptualize various forms of art. I want to know the words for little technical details, understand the kinds of structures possible and what they're trying to achieve, be able to describe various components of a work of art and how they come together in language that is clear to me. One possible operationalization of this goal is to be able to read a professional critique of work in a particular field and understand what they're saying and how it follows, even if I don't agree or am unable to recreate that level of analysis myself.

So, dear readers: Do you have any recommended resources (books, articles, videos, sequences thereof, whatever) for gaining a kind of "conceptual competency" in an aesthetic domain you're especially interested in? I'm not particular at this point, really any domain will do to start out. Please do let me know!