Are we so desperate to solve our art? Genuine mystery these days is in such short supply these days, so my advice? Listen to 1977's Low and let it guide your thoughts like an oar on the river of your imagination and the current of art history. We didn't come to Bowie because he could be easily understood. We put his albums on because they made our collective emptiness bearable. His albums made the journey of life seem like it had a destination.
Most people reading this might be familiar with A. J. Weberman, or at the very least "Dylanology" — the practice of trying to divine Bob Dylan's work as if it were god's entrails. I always found that kind of pseudo-scholarship repulsive, but it took reading the term "solving our art", as above, to really snap into place what's wrong with it all.
Good art, popular or high, is always highly personalized and personalizable. You don't just experience it passively; you take it into yourself as much as it takes you into itself. The point isn't to solve the whole thing like a puzzle, but rather to experience it the way you would experience a favored downtown haunt or picnicking spot. Nobody "solves" those things, so why would you want to "solve" a favorite book or movie or album or artist?
One thing that comes to mind is how "solving", or "cracking the code", is an outer-directed activity. It lets us go to other people and say, hey, look, I figured this out, ain't I a sharp one? If they, too, think of the work in question as a code to be cracked, they'll respond in kind, and everyone gets to feel a little better about themselves.
But then there's the mindset that there's nothing to solve, per se — that what's needed instead is the willingness to let the experience in completely and not try to assign meanings to it.
Much has been made about the democratization of the arts, mostly from the point of view of treating "low" or "popular" art all the more as the first draft of "high" art. I thought this was more or less always the case and it's just that we're now all the more conscious of it. But beyond that is another kind of democratization, the sense that whatever there is in these things is and should be accessible to all — not because the works themselves are dumbed down, or because we're handed a magic decoder ring when we walk into the theater, but because we ourselves are wholly open to what's going on.
Democratization should not consist of the destruction of mystery, but finding ways to encourage all and sundry to participate in the mystery just as it is — and, moreover, to not let that process become a form of mystification unto itself. More on that later.