Here’s a collection of ideas/ fact(oids):
• More expensive wine does taste better, even if the wine itself is exactly the same as a cheaper wine; apparently knowing that we’ve paid extra fires up areas of our brain that help us to enjoy the wine more.
• There is a theory – attributable, I think, to James Elkins – that we visit art museums to be seen by the artworks.
• A friend of mine went to the Bob Dylan concert in Dublin the other night. He was so far from the stage that for a while he mistook which of the people on stage was Dylan.
It is absurd to think that works of art in museums are conscious of our presence, though it is slightly less absurd to think that we might behave as though they are. There is a definite human need (though I don’t even have a proper factoid to back up this claim) to be seen / registered by those we consider important; if Dylan’s your man, then it would be a thrilling moment to have him look at you and register your (till then lowly) existence.
What if my friend had spent the whole concert taking the wrong person for Dylan? What if I went to the Louvre and somehow stood in thrall of the wrong Mona Lisa? The analogies don’t completely work – each artwork has its own concepts and complexities, and we take some of these away with us when we leave. But – perhaps because of the monetary, physical or psychological investment involved – my friend might have gone home just as satisfied, and I might have left the Louvre with most of that post-Mona Lisa feeling.