Professor Peyton Burgess
30 September 2013
Is “Low Art”, Art?
Society today has been slacking in a sense of art. “Low art” has become more popular than ever leaving any intelligent mind stimulation. Artistic merit is highly revered and encouraged lately for this reason. “Big Red Son” by David Foster Wallace shows a high sense of serious art and moreover artistic merit. One with such an intelligent background and upbringing, it would be shocking for him not to achieve such artsitic merit. This merit is achieved through structure, format, and thorough research.
David Foster Wallace was an award winning writer from New York; however, he was raised in Chicago, Illinois. Wallace went to Amherst College for English and Philosophy and then to graduate school at Harvard University. The start of a long trail of depression led him to drop out at Harvard and become a teacher at Emerson College in Boston, MA. Wallace is known for his intelligence, however this characteristic is in the genes. His father, James Donald Wallace, studied Philosophy at Cornell and later moved to Chicago with his family to teach at University of Illinois. Sally Foster Wallace, his mother, won the professor of the year award and got her masters at University of Illinois. However, this strong upbringing can result in a lot of pressure. Wallace struggled with depression for quite sometime which can be seen through his writings. This struggle continued until he took his life at age 46.
Put simply, artistic merit is the value of art, if it has any or not. A piece with higher artistic merit shows a sense of individualism, intensive research, and connection to the audience. David Foster Wallace argues that this value has been declining through the years and we are increasingly getting closer to “low art”. In a society constantly observing “low art” we don’t have to do much work in analytically understanding the piece; writers constantly spoonfeed information to the reader, serving their own agenda. This lack of analysis the reader is forced to do is the major factor in deciding if a piece lacks artistic merit.
However, in “Big Red Son” by David Foster Wallace this is not the case. He put in his own style making the reader change “their agenda”. DFW allows the reader to come to his or her own conclusion. He makes you want to look up more information by adding unfamilair places and people. He uses footnotes to further the reader’s understanding. The footnotes are never all the same. Sometimes providing comedic relief, other times simply going more in depth on a topic. However, always adding a bit of his personality. The format is almost sarcastic being that as he is mocking the porn industry he also uses such a “type A”, studious format. David Foster Wallace shows the difference between “low art” and work done with artistic merit by saying “Serious art… is more apt to make you uncomfortable, or to force you to work hard to access its pleasures, the same way that in real life true pleasure is usually a by product of hard work and discomfort.” in an interview conducted by Larry McCaffery, a famous literary critic. This quote reiterates David Foster Wallace’s ability, moreover his knowledge of the importance in challenging the reader.
By putting his full self into his work, Wallace thrives in artistic merit. Public opinion constantly swayed his thoughts and writing. Despite the battled he fought with himself through the years, David Foster Wallace’s troubles only forced himself to never settle for anything less than perfect in his work. It is evident that this strive for perfection was a factor in the way he constructed his footnotes, almost as if he was worried to leave anything out. During an interview with Charlie Rose you can really see how Wallace’s depression impacted not only his way of ...
Cited: Wallace, David Foster. Interview by Charlie Rose. The Charlie Rose Show. PBS. KACV, New
York City: 27 Mar. 1997. Television.
"The Best of David Foster Wallace." The American Prospect. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Sept. 2013.
Wallace, David Foster. Big Red Son. New York City: Little, Brown and Co., 1998. Print.
Larry McCaffery, "An Interview with David Foster Wallace." Review of Contemporary Fiction
13.2 (Summer 1993), 127–150.
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