January 5, 2003
Eff a Rap Critic (c) Method Man
Here's a little rant I wrote in response to this essay that assesses the proper role of a critic. I wrote this with comtemporary music critics in mind, so it might not apply as well to other forms such as the "Fine Arts". Or maybe it does?
1. In the trinity of Artist Audience and Critic, the critic's viewpoint will always be of least value. Passages like this: "Conversely, only a public ill-served by its critics could have accepted as art and as literature so much in these last years that has been neither" I find absurdly arrogant. This notion that the job of a critic is to be the Shepherd, and guide all us lost lambs to the safety of proper standards, is a delusion of grandeur.
The only relationship that matters is between artist and audience. If the critic and the audience are not seeking the same things from the artist, it's not the audience that is misguided, it is the critic whose criteria are outmoded. Critics like to imagine they are out on the field calling plays or assessing penalties, but the truth is they are merely commentators on the sidelines, and nothing they say has any effect on the outcome of the game. In short, there's nothing sadder than critics who think they matter.
2. Timelessness is not necessarily a relevant criterion.
3. "Can a standard of craftsmanship apply to art of all ages, or does each have its own, and different, definitions?" - It is the latter.
4. "The result of this convenient avoidance is a plenitude of actors who can’t project their voices, poets who can’t communicate emotion, and writers who have no vocabulary — not to speak of painters who can’t draw" - When critics say things like this it usually indicates a shallow understanding of what the audience seeks and what the artist is trying to achieve. Their stubborn loyalty to inapplicable standards blinds them to the levels on which this art is meant to function. It's like if you went to see Riverdance and said "well these guys didn't move their hands at all, so they obviously don't know how to dance."
5. Not to say I am hating on this essay. I think I can roll with "purpose and craftsmanship" as pretty good, broadly applicable standards, so long as our definition of craftsmanship is shaped by our understanding of the purpose. I think the most sensible method for a critic is to figure out what was the artist trying to achieve, and did they succeed at it. Usually, instead of this, critics are guided by their own tastes, and judge the artist based on what they think he/she should be trying to achieve. This places you in the illogical position of condemning artists for failing to do things that they had no intention of doing in the first place. I think a good critic knows the difference between "he is doing something badly" and "he is doing something I don't like