“Less is more” is a popular truism today. Like most truisms there’s some truth in it– maybe even a lot of truth in it. Recently I’ve been pondering the related aesthetic phenomenon that we enjoy art and stories that make us work a bit to figure them out. I think that sometimes this is how less can be more. We like a bit of mystery.
And that is the correct expression, too, as far as I can tell. It really isn’t that we especially like figuring it out, because we find mysteries delightful, and not really especially frightening. Perhaps because they remind us of transcendence, and make the world bigger, more exciting and more interesting. The chase is important, but I’m not sure the solution is. Solutions are fun, but the aesthetic experience is certainly not ruined by an unsolved mystery.
One of the aesthetic experiences that I had recently that reminded me of the enchantment of mystery was this song:
The old movie quotes sprinkled throughout the song almost form a story–sort of the vague outlines of a story. And I happened to find the whole thing interesting enough that I went on a bit of a wild goose chase trying to find the movie the old audio clips were taken from (if you know, please let me know: I never did figure it out). Which lead me to reflect on what was going on. Somehow this song was just the right balance of a pleasant and familiar musical experience, coupled with a curiosity-inducing use of old quotes to suggest the presence of a story.
So for the last weeks or months since I stumbled across this song, and this insight, I’ve been reminding myself to leave room for mystery. So often that is what art does, it suggest things to us, and takes the attraction of the pretty or beautiful or interesting thing, and then leaves out just enough to suck us into closer examination and deeper appreciation. That kind of artistic ambuguity almost creates a little dance or mini-conversation between the elements in the work of art.