Tuesday, April 29, 2008

What is good criticism?

Australian art critic Sebastian Smee, in a biting, provocative valedictory piece in The Australian:

The best criticism, as Adam Gopnik wrote in an appreciation of the poet and critic Randall Jarrell, should be “not a slot machine of judgment but a tone of voice, a style, the promise of a whole view of life in a few pregnant sentences.”

[P]eople who worry about the present state of criticism tend to fall into the trap of regarding it as a public service. The health of the arts, they say, depends on a robust and vigorous culture of criticism. I sympathise with the view and occasionally feel flattered by it. But I think it inflates the role of critics. As Robert Hughes once said, practising criticism is “like being the piano player in a whorehouse; you don't have any control over the action going on upstairs.”

In place of public edification, I believe criticism is better seen as a (potential) public pleasure. It sounds obvious, but a piece of criticism, in the first instance, has to be worth reading. A good column might be a leisurely, soft-pedalled essay hinging on subtle discriminations, an ecstatic love letter to some new discovery, or a fuming snort of disgust. What matters is that it is written with conviction, and that it opens the reader's eyes to things about its subject that they may not have considered in quite those terms before.

“Art deserves to be met with more than silence,” says The Guardian's critic Adrian Searle. Artworks, he continues, “accrue meanings and readings through the ways they are interpreted and discussed and compared with one another.” It's in this process that the real stimulations of criticism are to be found...

Good criticism (and I mean this as an expression of an ideal) should be risky, challenging, candid and vulnerable. It should be urbane one moment, gauchely heartfelt the next. It should kick against cant wherever it sees it, and cherish and applaud not only art but the impulse to make art, for that impulse, which comes out of life as it is lived, is the real mystery, and the source of everything that makes it wonderful.


The complete article here.

Let me quote the pertinent lines again, because they express in unimproveable words what I also believe in and try to practice--not that I succeed always: “Good criticism should be risky, challenging, candid and vulnerable. It should be urbane one moment, gauchely heartfelt the next. It should kick against cant wherever it sees it, and cherish and applaud not only art but the impulse to make art...”

PLUS: Three more interesting reads--How Much For Hamlet? by Ralph Pena, The Necessity for Destructive Criticism (Theater) by Joey Ting (who, by the way, will start reviewing theater for The Manila Times), and last year's nasty broadside in the London Times that got the English boards buzzing, AA Gill's It's Curtains For the Critics.

3 comments:

the donG said...

“Good criticism should be risky, challenging, candid and vulnerable. It should be urbane one moment, gauchely heartfelt the next. It should kick against cant wherever it sees it, and cherish and applaud not only art but the impulse to make art...” >>>> very interesting.

gibbs cadiz said...

hey DONG, it is, right? and very beautifully worded. :)

thebaklareview said...

amen amen oh god AMEN!!!

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