In THE WRIGHT THREE by Blue Balliett, Scholastic Press, 2006, the teacher is trying to get her students to express their feelings and assessment about art. The kids come up with a list of criteria with which to judge art. The art object in question is a piece of architecture.
I thought it might be a good exercise to use these criteria to discuss THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins. Now these will just be a few thoughts off the top of my head, and you are welcome to agree or disagree. Then, come up with your own examples.
ART SHOULD HAVE SURPRISES. THE HUNGER GAMES is full of surprises. It seems like “games” should be fun. But SURPRISE! These games are not fun. They are dangerous and deadly. I like the way we gradually find out how Katniss and Peeta, the baker’s son, originally got to know each other. I like the way the gift of the Mockingjay pin becomes a symbol of Kat and her mission. I like the way the old (previous) games winner gives her just a touch of advice which proves to be golden.
ART SHOULD MAKE YOU FEEL BETTER. I know; there’s a lot in the book that makes you feel bad. But ultimately, don’t you think there are things that make you feel good? How about the way Kat is so determined to take care of her little sister? Kat may be tough, but she has strong family feeling. Maybe you can’t relate to that. If not, then determine now that when you create your own home, you will make sure that the glue that holds it together is family feeling.
ART SHOULD MAKE YOU THINK. After finishing the book, I’ll bet you thought about how this fictional world resembles the one you live in. After experiencing the stirring emotions of fear and friendship, hunger and hatred, determination and confusion—along with the characters, you saw the irony in the fact that everywhere you look in our world, someone is engaged in some form of electronic communication. It seems we’re voyeurs watching voyeurs. George Orwell had already warned us in NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR about being watched over by Big Brother. (I kept wondering where the cameras were in THE HUNGER GAMES). Suffice it to say, they were there. Now, are you going to think about the deeper messages of the book? Or do you think it isn’t worthy of your time?
ART SHOULDN'T BE SPOOKY. I’m afraid THE HUNGER GAMES fails this criteria. And that’s okay; mature readers can handle the spookiness. Being surprised by unexpected attacks is a pretty spooky thing. But let’s look at this a little closer. Going back to the Greek philosopher and literary critic, Aristotle, we find that spookiness is a good thing in art. Aristotle thought that art (he was speaking directly to dramatic tragedy) should create enough fear in the audience to purge or purify one’s emotions of that very fear. But there are incidents in other stories for little kids that create anxiety, -----you fill in something here. After all, this standard was suggested by a child, and spookiness is something parents should oversee in the lives of little kids.
ART SHOULDN'T BE DANGEROUS. In my novel-in-progress, I have a statue falling on someone. Just the other day, a painting fell off the wall in my doctor’s office. (No one was hurt). But THE HUNGER GAMES. Now—there’s danger, there. There’s danger in starving to death, there’s danger in the games, and there’s danger of a totalitarian government sucking the life out of an entire society. So the book is ultimately political. It takes a lot of motivation to stand up to those with power.
ART SHOULD BE A THING YOU WANT TO LIVE WITH. If you bought the book (or plan to buy the video when it comes out), then you want to live with this piece of art. You will be able to look on your book shelf and see this piece of art and watch the video anytime you want. You probably have posters on your wall, and figurines sitting on your shelves. Most of the time, you get to choose what art you want to live with. But project into the future for a moment. Do you think books will die out with the advent of electronic readers? Are books going to be something to see in a museum behind glass? Is the book a kind of art that is disappearing? What are your feelings about that?
ART SHOULD HAVE SECRETS. THE HUNGER GAMES passes this criterion with flying colors. There are enough secrets in this world to fill three books; and that’s just what Ms. Collins did—she wrote two more books. In Greek Drama the artistic secrets came as a surprise near the end of the play. Only then does the viewer understand the real motivation behind the characters’ actions. There are secrets throughout THE HUNGER GAMES, such as when Katniss and Peeta come out in flaming costumes, and the secret love affair planned by Hamish to keep the two alive. In my novel, WOUNDS, Craig's secret motive for attempting to cut down the tree is explained near the end.
Do you think the people living lavishly in the Capital were interested in art? Did they read books?
I copied this from Nancy Stewart’s blog:
“Books are really part of what makes us human.” So says Rosemary Agoglia, curator of education at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, Massachusetts, in a New York Times article about efforts to teach children the merits and pleasures of the “pre-web page,” of books.
WHAT CRITERIA DO YOU USE TO JUDGE WORKS OF ART? Please share your formulas.