Who’s to define a classic? The dictionary above is only a very basic summary of what it means for anything to be a classic. Other things people associate with the word classic are Mona Lisa, books I was forced to read at school, or violins. If you actually like history and art (using the term loosely to include every art form,) you might think of museums you want to visit or quotes that never vanished from your head after you read that book. Take, for example, this Jane Austen:
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.
Sound familiar? It probably does. Certain excerpts from certain books go around the web forever. You might have seen it on tumblr or someone’s Facebook wall, or you might remember the quote because you disagreed with it. Somehow, the things you disagree with tend to stick with more fervor.
So who’s to define it? A classic isn’t necessarily a book that everyone loves. It’s not always an abstract painting; sometimes, the artists make it quite clear what’s going on, while in others–like the Starry Night–you can only wonder what was going through the artist’s mind.
Classic anything has the tendency to frighten or enrage. Classic anything can be controversial–indeed, it might have been bold and daring once upon a time, when the world had tighter rules for propriety. A classic anything has made enough of an impact on mankind that it’s still taught today; we still wonder at it, whether in a good way or bad.
To the people who say classics are boring, I would counter that they made a much wider impact than a lot of passing trends we see today. Once upon a time, people didn’t think them boring at all! Once upon a time, a book might have been banned, or a painting called inappropriate. I think there’s nothing more worth our time and study than the creations that shaped our world. That’s why this year, I’ve taken a liking to classic anything.
But where do we start learning such a vast subject? My grandma is into classic art, so I borrow her books, and naturally I have a shelf of classic novels in my bookcase–but that doesn’t even scratch the surface. I can read a book and never know all the reasons it became a classic; perhaps I can pluck out a quote or two, but I’ll never know everything about my own book, much less another author who has been dead for many years.
How do we possibly learn everything?
Then I venture to ask, does it even really matter? We can’t know everything about shallow passing trends, so we definitely won’t know everything about classics. What makes a classic is that somehow it reached humanity’s standard of–perfection isn’t the word.
It made an impact closer to the heart than most other books did, so it’s read over and over again. Learning everything about it isn’t possible. The magic is in how we don’t know everything. That’s another trait of a classic, perhaps the greatest trait.
Would you learn everything if you could? Even if it took the magic away? I’m not sure I would, but if someone offered that to me on the spot, I’d have a moment of confusion where it might sound tempting. Then I’d regret it.
The magic is in not knowing.
So I invite you to take a second look at that painting, or the book you were forced to read in school. There’s a reason why you were told to read it! This is important to society, because it shaped society.
You don’t know what you’ll find, so try it. The work of art might just change you, as well.