Describe the experience of disliking a work of art
February 14, 2020 4:04 PM   Subscribe

How do you describe the feeling of disliking a book or a film or other creative work that you expected to like because of its synopsis or glowing reviews. This dislike is almost immediate. The feeling can be anywhere from medium indifference ("boring") to strong irritation or even outright disapproval. Are there certain qualities such as prose style, cinematography or assumed audience* that you notice that you consistently dislike?

I am reading a nonfiction book of essays that was highly acclaimed and I really don't like it. In trying to explain why I dislike it, I found I couldn't quite find the right expression for both what I dislike about it and the experience of disliking it. "Bounced off" is the closest, but there must be other ways of saying that you didn't click with a book or creative work.

*(I really hate when North American authors write as if all their readers are white, I'm looking at you Mark Bittman and your "ethnic grocery stores")
posted by spamandkimchi to Media & Arts (34 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: -"It's not for me."
-"I am not the target audience for this thing."
-"Also The Life of Pi sucks for several other reasons which I will outline for you in detail if you insist and then you'll resent me for telling you your favorite book is crap but wouldn't it be easier if you just accepted it when I say it's not for me."

If it's someone I know reasonably well I will pick a specific thing that they don't like for no real reason (explain why you don't like zucchini?) and compare the two.
posted by phunniemee at 4:12 PM on February 14, 2020 [6 favorites]

I call the feeling of not liking the New Thing everybody's raving about the Emperor's New Clothes (especially if it's just an Old Thing, redone). A variation perhaps, of the old story.
posted by Rash at 4:20 PM on February 14, 2020 [1 favorite]

Politely I say "It’s not to my taste."

Otherwise I say (and feel) that the style grates on me.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 4:32 PM on February 14, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Not for me is how I explain it when it's something that I recognize has good qualities, but I still don't like it. I will generally use that phrase when talking about most things that I don't think are objectively horrible, because I don't know if the person I'm talking to will like it.

So I'll say "not for me" about one book just because it's a multigenerational family saga and I don't care for those, even if it is something that I recognize as probably a well-written multigenerational family saga. I'll also say "not for me" about a book in my preferred genre where the female characters were clearly written by a man who is not quite sure women are the same species as men. In a more in-depth conversation (where I'm sure I'm not insulting someone's favorite book, or with someone I trust), I will say "yeah, every choice made by a woman in that book seemed entirely flip-a-coin random" about the latter book and "I'm not into lyrical prose" about the former.

"I couldn't get into it" is another way to describe that experience, especially if it really was that you never really got sucked into the story, or were never able to see the thing as a whole because the flaws were too distracting.

But I also think "bounced off" is useful. I've bounced off books I ended up loving later, just because it wasn't the right time for me to read it.
posted by gideonfrog at 4:38 PM on February 14, 2020 [1 favorite]

The thing I notice right away is phony dialog. I can't tell you how often I'm watching a movie or a TV show, and I think to myself, "Oh my God, a real person would never say such a thing. This is so stupid and fake, I can't even."
posted by alex1965 at 4:44 PM on February 14, 2020 [3 favorites]

For me, a fiction work fails which has no prose style OR too much prose style. But there needs be no answer other than, "Didn't feel compelled to read more."
posted by tmdonahue at 5:06 PM on February 14, 2020 [3 favorites]

To add to what I wrote, some few books I feel/think, "I really don't like this but I can't put it down." Isn't this the wonder of art: surprises, new experiences, or rejections, too? Life is too short to follow someone else's recommendation wholesale.
posted by tmdonahue at 5:17 PM on February 14, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I think I know what you mean and I just say I wasn't on board. Sometimes in a work of art you just aren't on board with what the artist/s is doing. For a movie, often if I don't get on board early then everything subsequent rings false — I'm not in the magic, can only see the flaws, and moments which might ring true to someone on board fall totally flat with me.
posted by wemayfreeze at 5:18 PM on February 14, 2020 [1 favorite]

If I happen to actually know why I didn't like something, then I can say things like, "I thought the dialogue was clichéd and stale," or "I thought that the pacing was too uneven for the story," etc.

But if I genuinely can't point to a specific thing or there were too many little things that culminated in my not liking something then I'll say a variation of what has been suggested above. Also, "I just couldn't connect to it" works well, especially if it's something that I ordinarily might have liked or I was the perfect audience for. Like, I really don't like the song "Whatever Happened to My Rock 'n' Roll" by the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club even though that song has all the ingredients that I love. I just don't connect to it at all.
posted by acidnova at 5:22 PM on February 14, 2020 [2 favorites]

I’m not sure what you’re looking for, so I’ll try to answer both possible questions

I hate art I think of as pretend deep, stuff that tries to impart easy lessons designed to make the audience feel good about themselves (I, a white person in 2020, would have no problems letting a Black maid use my bathroom, so I am clearly not a racist, and I can feel very superior about it without examining my own thoughts and actions - after all, I’m a good guy). And I hate supposedly clever lessons about life spoken by characters who are meant to be Wise and Deep (I’m not going to say the cult favorite I loathe, loathe, loathe). So if you’re asking what artwork is not for me, those are the big offenders.

If you want to know how I get through the world talking to people who like this art, I’m usually pretty vague with those I don’t know well (“not for me” works), but if I have a good relationship with someone, I might try to explain. I’ve found it’s best to leave the room if people start talking about the cult favorite. People get mad.
posted by FencingGal at 5:23 PM on February 14, 2020 [1 favorite]

A thing I dislike in novels is the sense that the characters are just being used by the author. It's not just that the characters feel made-up and the things that are happening to them feel made-up. I can think of books I like a lot - Franny and Zooey, for instance, or Blood Meridian, which I'm halfway through right now - where I'm frequently reminded that I'm reading something someone made up, but the characters still have a certain realness for me and I care about the story. Maybe what bothers me is the feeling that the author doesn't really care about the characters all that much or that the story isn't real to the author. John Irving is an example of an author whose books make me feel this way.
posted by Redstart at 5:45 PM on February 14, 2020 [1 favorite]

I think for me it is either disappointment (high expectations dashed) or spite (everyone expects me to like this but I rebel).
posted by ferret branca at 6:01 PM on February 14, 2020 [2 favorites]

I remember hearing a familiar aria on the radio one night while washing dishes. It was irritating. My comment to my husband, about the singer was “Wow, she’s really full of herself.” She just sounded somehow like she thought she was the most important part of the choir.

I saw an art installation in a large cathedral in NYC a few years ago. It had to do with human’s animalistic nature, I guess. There were a lot of people with dog heads. I just couldn’t appreciate it or get into it. It seemed inappropriate in a church. My feeling was mostly of revulsion, however warranted or unwarranted.
posted by SLC Mom at 6:16 PM on February 14, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The introduction to this essay collection by the novelist and academic Amit Chaudhuri considers a version of this question. His eponymous dislike is the Titians at the Louvre.
posted by sy at 6:51 PM on February 14, 2020 [1 favorite]

I recently said, "I read the first line and grimaced."
posted by brook horse at 6:53 PM on February 14, 2020 [1 favorite]

It takes a fair amount for me to get past media that acts as though cis straight people are the only ones worth including, and all the more when homophobic and transphobic slurs get more (and more normative/sympathetic) airtime than LGBT characters.

I tried reading a graphic novel a bit ago that a bunch of (mostly cis straight or passing) friends liked, and put it down in revulsion when one of the lead characters used “AIDS patient” as an insult, because I remember the 80s entirely too well as it is and don’t need a refresher.
posted by bile and syntax at 7:20 PM on February 14, 2020 [4 favorites]

I felt exactly this way about Eat, Pray, Love. Had to give it away about half way through because the shrieking inside my head about Elizabeth Gilbert's apparent total disinclination to get over herself was just not going away.

If you've chosen to run your life in a way that wrings the greatest possible degree of internal drama out of every little thing that happens to you then fine, you do you; just don't expect me to be impressed enough by your recount of your epic struggles to pay money to your publisher.

Also not fond of much of the work of Clive James or Augusten Burroughs for very similar reasons.
posted by flabdablet at 7:44 PM on February 14, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Reading is definitely strongly mood-related for me. If I'm not in the right mood for a certain kind of book, I set it down. I usually pick it up again, but if it "doesn't take", I no longer force myself. If I try to push through, I will almost certainly resent the book even if it's good or I would like it otherwise, because it's not the thing I will like in that moment. This makes up most of my mild-to-intense dislike instances, honestly! I guess I'm a moody reader. I usually communicate my dislike in the same way ("I wasn't in the mood for it" or "I didn't take to it").

However, I do also find circular dialogue-type prose in books really maddening - like an artifice that gets in the way of better ideas - whereas I can only imagine that it provides some depth that other readers enjoy. I gave up on Saramago's "The Cave" due to it, and I'm struggling through Chang Rae Lee's "On Such a Full Sea" for the same reason.
posted by Paper rabies at 7:45 PM on February 14, 2020 [1 favorite]

I bounced so hard off of a highly-acclaimed, much-hyped National Theatre production starting not one but two Big Name British Act-ors That You Have Definitely Heard Of. I had many colorful turns of phrase for my feelings, up to and including a desire to see it launched into space on a trajectory that would rendezvous it with the burning core of the sun.

One thing that there had better be other very shiny objects to district me from is being a sausage party (the above production featured full male frontal, so it was quite literally a sausage party). If they're are no women in your fiction without a darn good reason, I'm probably going to be very distracted and annoyed by this strange parallel Earth where a plague seems to have wiped out everyone but cismen yet no one is talking about it.
posted by soren_lorensen at 8:07 PM on February 14, 2020 [3 favorites]

Disappointment or a sense of betrayal by a trusted source. Sometimes, I admit, I wonder at my own reaction: what am I missing? But, over time, I've learned to trust my own judgement.
posted by SPrintF at 8:21 PM on February 14, 2020 [2 favorites]

I use many of the above, plus "I was immune to its charms."
posted by mark k at 9:21 PM on February 14, 2020 [7 favorites]

visceral dislike ? since you said "almost immediate."
posted by elgee at 10:57 PM on February 14, 2020 [1 favorite]

I feel irrationally strongly when someone I like enthusiastically endorses something that I turn out to hate. Almost like they've betrayed my trust.

The specific incident I am thinking of involves a novel written by a prize-winning poet from the same country as A (slightly famous) Person I Like. That person gushed so much about the novel that I (sight unseen, because English language books are not easy to get here in my non-Anglophone country) bought it by mail order. Eagerly, I opened it.

The story was based on a misogynist myth, (and the misogyny inherent in the myth was apparently invisible to the white male author). The plot managed to be both boring and contrived, and the female main character was a cardboard Mary Sue who literally did nothing while other, male characters performed what few actions in the plot that might have been interesting - offstage! The climax of the book literally involved a confrontation between a supporting male character and the villain, and it was all offstage while the author lingered on his beloved Mary Sue, who moped around listlessly doing nothing. The theme seemed to be that women's sexuality is too dangerous and that they should all pledge themselves to lives of celibacy before they destroy the lives of poor innocent men. SRSLY I AM NOT JOKING.

Anyway, after slogging my way through this pile of crap, I became enraged at the money and time I wasted on it, and I resolved never to trust the literary taste of Person I Like again. It also made me like Person I Like somewhat less after realizing that like the author, he is also blind to a shit ton of misogyny.

I'm not sure if I've answered your question properly, but thank you for posting. I really needed to get this off my chest.
posted by all the light we cannot see at 1:02 AM on February 15, 2020 [3 favorites]

In general I do not like art that makes me feel bad. My regular life makes me feel bad quite enough. So if the point of the art seems to be something like "see how ugly the world is" or "see how terrible people are" or "look at this violent awful thing, look at it!" I don't like it. For paintings and sculptures usually my gut level response is "that's ugly" or "ew". And lots of visual art just gives me a great big "meh".

For books I don't like my most frequent reason is "people don't act like that" OR "this is just regular everyday life, I am bored". Or "I do not like spending time with these people even though I suppose they are realistic and in theory doing interesting things" My objections almost always have to do with characters and not prose style. I will put up with some really clunky writing (or overly lush descriptive writing) if I am enjoying the characters and what they are up to.

For movies and TV I often have a very hard time putting my finger on it when I don't like something and will spend a lot of time looking for bad reviews to find my own reasons. It very rarely has to do with visual style. The only visual styles I really have a problem with are "too dim, I really can't see what is happening, I am squinting" and "this is so fast that I really can't tell what it happening, I will zone out and return when it slows down" Often it boils down to "this is depressing" or "I disagree with the auteur's basic assumptions about the world and humanity and they are depressing"

For music I have no idea why I like some things and not others. It's either "I like it!" or "Nope, don't like it!"
posted by Jenny'sCricket at 3:22 AM on February 15, 2020 [2 favorites]

For me it often comes down to what I think of as the voice of an author: if I enjoy the 'sound' of their voice then any number of flaws in their work might be forgivable; whereas whatever clever or subtle things are said by a voice I instinctively dislike will be lost on me as I fixate on how annoying I find the way they've put their words together.

Or I sometimes look at it from an 'it's not you, it's me' perspective, and ascribe an instinctive dislike to some as-yet un-acquired taste or to a hard-wired blind-spot in my outlook.
posted by misteraitch at 3:24 AM on February 15, 2020 [3 favorites]

Best answer: For me the dislike can take a number of forms - some are totally grounded and thought out and some of them absolutely absurd.

In the absurd category are the things that are kind of foisted on me as an American consuming art of any kind. Eg: Regardless of how good I know the painting is and why, I never feel more American than when I see the Mona Lisa. There was a writer who wrote about it in a humorous essay a while back and I think they were spot on: "THAT'S IT??? THAT? That LITTLE painting?"

Then there are things that attempt to shine a mirror back on me and I feel like it is a little undercooked or patronizing - I feel like this a lot with Steinbeck and Upton Sinclair. I know what a hardscrabble life looks and feels like in those types of situations/locations and they just never quite touch that part of me that desperately wanted and needed to escape it. I feel with them like a lot of non-white and non-straight must when they read or engage with writing that isn't quite right in tone, though it tries to be and genuinely tries to root its characters or story.

Then there are things that are age-dependent. At one point I would have positively delighted in spending days and days with Anïs Nin, but now I roll my eyes a lot when I revisit her work. She has been replaced by William Faulkner or Italo Calvino (among others) in terms of language that I don't just read but feel physically. So there is something about my own age and where I pin the "me" that would enjoy a particular piece when I read it. Which "me" would have enjoyed this?

Then there are the times when I just don't like the flow of their language. I like some undulation and a little magic in my writing and reading, so I don't tend to love Hemingway. But this has to do with it just not being my thing and my personal preference for play and elaboration. I like thinking about why a writer chose the construction they chose and why they put things in the order they did. With certain writers' styles this is easier to think about and work through. I like the labor of the reading and thinking about the labor of the writing (or artistic creation).
posted by Tchad at 7:10 AM on February 15, 2020 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: These are all great, thank you. The different shades of "it's not you, it's me" such as mood, age, personal background as well as the different societal and interpersonal contexts.

Sometimes too little information leads to profound disappointment. I can only imagine being a Latinx reader who picks up American Dirt at their local bookstore's bestseller table, though a friend just told me that they went into a screening of Parasite thinking it was a zombie movie and the surprise made the film even more amazing.
posted by spamandkimchi at 11:04 AM on February 15, 2020 [1 favorite]

Lately I take he approach to art of asking myself: 1. What was the artist trying to achieve? 2. Did they successfully achieve it? 3. Was it worth doing. It helps me appreciate some art a bit more while also getting a better grasp of why some other art has let me down.
posted by furtive at 8:23 PM on February 15, 2020

I don't expect all art to be perfect, and it doesn't really bother me if a work of art has flaws, or if I don't like it, or if the artist is a bad person. But there are rare exceptions...

There is a piece of art that really offended me: 'Steve Jobs' (2015 film) by Boyle & Sorkin. Watching it felt like my willing suspension of disbelief was being punched in the face repeatedly, then pissed on. They took an interesting story about a flawed genius (the Isaacson source is fascinating), totally miscast it, & then changed everything around. I was even more offended that some people actually liked it! That seemed to hurt more than anything.
posted by ovvl at 8:52 PM on February 15, 2020

"It just didn't resonate with me" is one of my go-tos.
posted by Stewriffic at 8:22 AM on February 16, 2020 [3 favorites]

If it is a particularly popular thing that I either tried and didn't care for or haven't tried and probably won't, I'll sometimes phrase it as "I feel like it's been over-hyped for me—I might come back to it later when the time feels right."

Which, for me, is really important. The things I end up hating the most are things that I was initially really excited about or that had been really hyped up to me, but that ended up not meeting my expectations in a way where I was blindsided by it. It might not even be that the thing was bad. The thing could be quite good! But if it was over-hyped in a way where I expected or was excited about it having a specific element that it ended up not having or doing badly? It is DEAD to me.

Example: the movie "In Bruges". I've heard it's quite good. People whose opinions I value and who have similar taste as I do seem to like it. Maybe if I were to watch it again, now that it's been years since I've seen it, I might like it now.

But when I went into it expecting a Guy Ritchie-esque gangster farce and instead got a sober meditation on the repercussions of one's choices punctuated with brief bits of dark humor? The gulf between my expectations and reality was too wide to consolidate. I felt personally wronged by how that movie had misrepresented itself, which is silly, but knowing it was silly to feel that way didn't make me any less mad about it.
posted by helloimjennsco at 11:58 AM on February 17, 2020 [2 favorites]

I found I couldn't quite find the right expression for both what I dislike about it and the experience of disliking it. "Bounced off" is the closest

It's funny you used "bounced off" because I just say "It didn't grab me". You internalize and I externalize the same metaphorically kinetic experience. For me my responsibility stops at the initial attempt. Then I expect the media to do some work. Life is short and I'm probably on the back half, barring great medical breakthroughs, so I don't mess around for very long with things that don't do some work at grabbing and holding my interest.
posted by srboisvert at 4:27 PM on February 17, 2020

'Saturday' by Ian McEwan (stream-of-consciousness-ish thoughts of a banal middle/upper-class twit brain-surgeon who loves his Mercedes, and punches down on a petty criminal that he comes into conflict with) made me throw a book. After some pondering, I realized that the author might have made a brilliant parody of generic high-brow literary fiction, which even fooled the crits! Well played, McEwan.
posted by ovvl at 5:15 PM on February 17, 2020

I read a lot. I very seldom abandon a book for good partway through, but I often leave a book half-read for months or even years; and about a quarter of the books I read, I don't enjoy enough to keep.

I use "bounced off" for books that I've put down, whether I intend to go back to them at a later point or not. A book I'll pick up again later, I'm just "not in the mood for right now".

I picked up the phrase Eight Deadly Words - "I don't care what happens to these people" - on one of the rec.arts.sf.* newsgroups back in the day, and it's often a good description of my reaction to a book I am not enjoying.

Other than that, a book I haven't enjoyed, whether I abandoned it partway through or read it to the end, I "didn't get on with". Or "I wasn't the target reader". Or it "wasn't for me" or "left me cold". Or sometimes, it was just terrible! - badly written, or with great gaping holes in the logic.

Reasons for the dislike (given that any book I've picked up in the first place, I thought I'd enjoy) vary quite a bit. "It was fine, I liked the characters, but by the ninth time she used 'may' instead of 'might' I was climbing the walls." "Far too much body horror for me, I couldn't get past page 20." "She mistook Canterbury for Dover, and it sounds like a small thing, but I know Canterbury so well that it kept throwing me out of the novel when she talked about parts of the city that just don't exist." "The plot was held together by incredibly poor decision-making and a complete lack of communication." "It was well-written, but I didn't like any of the characters and I didn't want to spend time with them." "The author was obviously very worried the reader would forget the protagonist was a woman, because he KEPT having her think or talk about her breasts." "I just don't seem to get on with coming-of-age novels. I should really stop trying." "Nothing ever actually *happened* in this book!"

It doesn't bother me if I don't enjoy something that's been widely hyped: I'm an outlier in all sorts of respects, it's no great surprise if my taste in fiction is one of them. But it's really disappointing when I don't enjoy a book that people I like or respect have absolutely loved. If it's been recommended by a friend or relative, I feel I'm letting them down by not liking it. When it's something I've picked up because of word of mouth in an online community, it'll be something I've looked forward to reading, waited for eagerly in paperback, and then... oh. Been left completely cold by. It tends to leave me wondering what they saw in it that I didn't.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 3:50 AM on February 18, 2020 [2 favorites]

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