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Good art, great art and masterpieces

Country Musings by Robert Loy, January 2004

Since this is being written around the time of Twelfth Night, I suppose it's appropriate that I have had an epiphany.

No, not that kind of epiphany, so just take the frankincense and myrrh back to Wal-Mart. What I have learned is the difference between good art, great art and a masterpiece.

Good art connects with us on an emotional basis. It might make us laugh or cry or fear or remember a moment that might otherwise have been lost forever. But it makes us feel something. Kenny Rogers' song "The Greatest" made me laugh the first few times I heard it, so that makes it good art. It fails as great art however, since after those first few listens I lost patience with that ball going up and the world going round.

"A Boy Named Sue," on the other hand easily qualifies as great art because although I've heard it a thousand times, and I know it's going to end up with a showdown in Gatlinburg, it still tickles my funny bone every single time. And that's what great art does, it touches us on an emotional level - consistently.

My two favorite short stories are "Jeffty is Five" by Harlan Ellison and "Offloading for Mrs. Schwartz" by George Saunders. No matter how many times I reread these stories I cry every time.

And I've never made it through Kathy Mattea's song "Where've You Been" with dry eyes - a tad embarrassing sometimes when I listen to the song in the patrol car I drive during my day job as a police officer. (It's okay, I have a cover story if anyone notices the tear tracks under my Ray-Bans; I just tell them Krispy Kreme ran out of maple-glazed doughnuts. Thank God for offensive occupational stereotypes.)

And a masterpiece? This rarest of all art forms emotionally overwhelms us, and it does it consistently. You cannot ignore a masterpiece because you are in its grasp. One of my favorite books (actually a series of 14 books) is Maison Ikkoku by Rumiko Takahashi. Every time I get to the end of this work I am laughing and crying at the same time. It's a weird and wonderful feeling, one you only get when you are in the company of a masterpiece.

It's weird, wonderful - and kind of scary. With great art like "Where've You Been" I'm affected, but I can still function. Not when I'm exposed to a masterpiece; then everything else fades into the background. If I'm driving and Vern Gosdin's "Chiseled in Stone" comes on the radio, I have to pull off the road to listen to it. I literally don't trust myself to be able to safely maneuver my vehicle with tears in my eyes and goose bumps all over my body.

All-over goose bumps from a song I've heard a few hundred times. If that's not a masterpiece I don't know what is.

The views expressed in this column are Robert Loy's and do not necessarily reflect those of CST.