On the Quality of Modern Poetry

This experiment mixed  randomly assigned respondents with either a poem by a leading Israeli artist or a cheap imitation, written on the spot in a half-hearted attempt to imitate the original (the experimenters were influenced by an experiment that showed people having hard time distinguishing between cheap and expensive wines and would rate higher those that were labelled expensive, so the imitation poem was meant to replicate the sense of a cheap wine — an imitation by an unskilled producer). They conclude:

“In sum: Our respondents showed no more appreciation for authentic poems than for fake poems… When poems are not accompanied by the poet’s name, lay people can hardly
distinguish between good poetry and (at least some) fake poetry… Experts can identify the authentic poems slightly better than chance.”

Note the that participants (mostly undergrads, N=281) all had undergraduate education or above and were fluent in Hebrew.

Interpretation no.1: all modern poetry is one big hoax and chance or marketing uniquely explain poet’s success.

Interpretation no.2: people read poems as part of a larger work, imagining an author’s voice, and read poems in light of that imagined voice.

Interpretation no. 3: modern poetry is written as a riddle and people look for cues to see whether this is a logical riddle or an illogical one.

(non-exhaustive list).

My bet: no 1. accounts for 40-60%, no 3 for 20-40%, remainder is left for 2.

One thought on “On the Quality of Modern Poetry

  1. That is another example of a long debate regarding the “true” value of art. A crucial part of how we value art is related to its context, and as such, examining its value separately from the context will never result with the same “value”. Maybe the most famous example is of this is Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain. Placed in the context of an art gallery or a museum, the urinal can transform into respected art. Now, if one encounters a urinal in public toilet or is asked to differentiate between a regular urinal to Duchamp’s, what will be the result?
    The same happens with food, wine, smell and touch – all considered to be objective to some extent (even more than the aesthetics of poetry). By the way, a great artist who play’s on this idea of modern art being a sole product of marketing rather than having an incremental value is Banksy with his – super recommended – movie Exit through the gift shop. Banksy “creates” an artist (Mr. Brainwash) who manages to sell his work for substantial amounts (and even design Madona’s CD cover) without any previous experience and even without the ability to use a brush…
    My bet: 80% of modern art is about the context.

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