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GRE Issue 55 - In Order For Any Work Of Art To Have Merit - With A Free Essay Review
In order for any work of art—for example, a film, a novel, a poem, or a song—to have merit, it must be understandable to most people.
Write a response in which you discuss the extent to which you agree or disagree with the statement and explain your reasoning for the position you take. In developing and supporting your position, you should consider ways in which the statement might or might not hold true and explain how these considerations shape your position.
The statement claims that in order for any work of art to have merit, it must be understandable to most people. It is true that if most people are not able to understand a work of art, this work can hardly demonstrate the meaning and thoughts the author wants to show to masses. However, some works of art, although too abstract for people to comprehend, still have merit in some aspects.
In some cases, without accessibility to most people, this work of art is unlikely to let people know the meaning of this work. In other words, with understandability, people would easily comprehend works’ value and enjoy them with ease. J.K. Rowling’s works are an excellent example of this point. The series of Harry Potter is comprehensible to most people, even young kids. By reading these easily understandable books, people can understand the plots and meaning of these books without much effort. Also, due to its intelligibility, the series, Harry Potter, becomes one of the best sellers around the world. Therefore, the reason why “Harry Potter” gains its popularity and has its unique merit is that its interesting plots and, most importantly, its understandability to most kids.
However, even though comprehensibility of one work would help it have merit, being understandable to most people is not the prerequisite of works to be meaningful to the world. Among literature works, there are numerous works with merit that are not understandable to populace. Take Remembrance of things past for example. It is difficult for most people to understand this great works largely because the author employs skills of stream-of-consciousness to complete this masterpiece. However, despite its difficulty of understanding, Remembrance of Things Past is regarded as one of the most important works by current critics because this work has a profound influence on other authors and brings a groundbreaking writing skill to literary circles.
In addition, some works of art are not understandable to most people largely because people have not the same state of the mind as authors. Once these people reach a high level of state of mind and their idealistic stature becomes more profound, they are likely to appreciate the merit of these works. Take Walden for example. By reading this book, people can enjoy the tranquility and pleasure the authors once experienced. Nevertheless, because of the vagueness of metaphor as well as implicit expression, ordinary people are not able to understand the underlying meaning of this book. But when they have more experiences and gain rich knowledge of philosophy of life, the underlying meaning would become more understandable to them. This is also true when it comes to other masterpieces, such as the Unbearable Lightness of Life, a noted work describing the mixture of love and betrayal, rebellion and suppression. Therefore, also some works are not understandable to most people, they still have merit because their deep yet implied meanings can be understood only when people gain more experiences and knowledge.
In conclusion, admittedly if works of art are understandable to most people, they are likely to have merit, but some works with difficulty of understandability have merit since they have great impacts on literature and demonstrate some complex thoughts which can hardly be understood by people with little experience and knowledge.
Your first argument is essentially this: if a work of art is not easily understood, then it is not easily understood. You complicate that unpromising argument a little by adding that an understandable work allows people to “enjoy them with ease.” If your argument is that a work that is understandable to most people is a work that is more enjoyable, then you should explicitly make and defend that argument. Given the original claim of the prompt, however, you should also tie the value of enjoyability to the “merit of a work of art.”
Your second argument (third paragraph) is better, but still not articulated with sufficient clarity. Implicitly, you argue that a work that “has a profound influence on other authors” has merit even if it is not understandable by most people. Again, make the argument explicit. And defend the argument. Here’s what a clear, defended argument might look like:
“There are many criteria by which the merit of a work of art might be judged. If a work of art has a profound influence on other artists, then it has merit. Such works have merit because they play an important role in the historical development of the art. But many such works are not readily understood. For example, etc. This work is difficult to understand because etc. But it has merit because etc.”
The initial articulation of the final argument (first two sentences of the fourth paragraph) is imprecise. You are really talking, for instance, about “educational level” or “intellectual ability” not “idealistic stature”, which is more or less meaningless. Ultimately, you argue that works that are understandable by some (the experienced and knowledgeable) have merit. That really just amounts to an assertion, for you don’t explain why you think that is true, and the examples only demonstrate the truth of the assertion that some people will be able to read difficult books (i.e., the examples don’t demonstrate the truth of the assertion that difficult books have merit).
I don’t think you’ve really found a way of grappling with this issue yet. I think you need to think about why the idea of accessibility might or might not be a good criterion for judging the merit of a work. What value might there be in works that are difficult to understand? What pleasure might there be in such works? Moreover, must a work have a meaning that can be understood in order for the work to have merit? Is it possible for a song to have no meaning and still be considered a work of art? Could the merit of a film consist only in the images that it allows to be seen? Could the merit of a poem consist in the mere sounds that it allows to be heard without there being anything to understand?
Archibald Macleish said “a poem must not mean, but be,” which is perhaps the most quoted line of poetry penned by a minor poet in the twentieth century. The fact that it is a line of poetry suggests that if it means what it says, then it doesn’t mean, or at least shouldn’t mean (what it says, or anything else). In any case, it is arguable, if you’re a big old Modernist like Macleish, that you might think even a poem ought not try to mean something, and therefore not be understandable at all.