There is no art that does not first appreciate. Art may be born in the afterthought, but never in the flippant or the unaware. It is a necessary antecedent of the artistic to be, in the truest sense, awake.
I have often wondered if it is really possible to teach appreciation as a subject, like geometry or grammar. In most areas of knowledge or art, honest study or sympathetic exposure should be enough to kindle a warm appreciation, if arising only from the sense of having invested a part of yourself in something. (Most of us do not find it particularly difficult to appreciate ourselves.) But to present it as a costume or a pill is to cheapen the rugged authenticity of the thing. It may be encouraged, it may be contagiously developed through exposure, but it cannot be taught, and it certainly cannot be tested.
For it is not about appreciating a certain predetermined set of things - abject veneration of civilization's laundry list of "classics" is hardly virtuous. It is not a crime to remain unmoved by Mozart or Mona Lisa; indeed, a certain measure of autonomy is healthy in that it may protect us from the frequent hubbub over the emperor's new clothes.
You will notice that art, or most art that is worth anything anyway, is by and by submitted to a sort of gauntlet, undergoing close scrutiny from any number of distinguished authorities who judge its relative merit or mediocrity. We call these folks critics. They seem to be of a different ilk than the artists; rarely do they coexist in the same personage. (This could be why my head hurts as it does.) But this begs the question: have we produced a society where those who can, create, and those who can't, critique?
Pablo Picasso said that "Good taste is the enemy of great art," and this may very well be true, to the extent that good taste is taken to mean political correctness. (I would prefer that good taste retain its innocent imagery a little while longer.) For art necessarily deals with the sensitive, and political correctness has no time or capacity for probing the deeper reaches of things. Art is made out on a limb, where the view is better.
I am currently reading a book depicting the disintegration of Europe under the crushing weight of Nazism. Artists, poets, and writers, as political threats, were systematically hunted. It is revealing to observe that the artists, as a unit, represented that strain of secular man that is, on the whole, liberal and sane, comfortable with fair play and unanswered questions. The Gestapo, on the other hand, held the ethical convictions of a pack of dogs, with no respect for life, let alone appreciation or even patience for the thoughtful, aesthetic work of their intellectual betters.
G. K. Chesterton said that "Art is the signature of man." Perhaps we could add that contempt is the characteristic of the criminal.
Image courtesy of prechtelfineart.com