Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Criticism and Learning

There are works of art that we like immediately. And those we don’t. What of it?

What I’m thinking about is that immediate liking may be based on superficial characteristics, and so with immediate dislike. In the first case, again as I’m imaging things, there’s nothing beyond those superficial characteristics, the one’s that are pleasing. In the second case I’m imagining that those superficial characteristics, the ones provoking a negative reaction, are, well, superficial, and that there’s more going on. What’s the role of criticism in these cases?

In the first case, and to a first approximation, the criticism points out the superficiality of the work, whatever it and they may be. This may or may not be difficult to do, but given the attraction of the superficial work, it may be difficult to take. In the second case the role is to educate the reader, viewer, or listener (as the case may be), to bring them to change so that they not only understand, but they enjoy the more profound work. Such change takes work and work takes time; it is not accomplished in the mere reading of a critical essay.

Such time and effort should not be squandered. The burden of criticism is thus a heavy one. The criticism must be exact if it is to be profitably exacting.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this. I look at quite a lot of art on tumblr and also recently on deviantart. I've noted that a lot of the most popular contemporary art on tumblr is that which has an instantly appreciable aspect: wow, a rocking horse sculpture covered with computer keys; a giant monkey made out of linking together coloured thongs (flip flops? Beach sandals? Not sure what the US term is...); a photo realist drawing that is...very realistic. It only takes a second to like or repost, and move on to the next one... Works that lackan immediate hook are dismissed immediately, probably much less than a second for many people.

    In galleries people might spend longer, since they might read the captions or curated blurb. But it often talks of biography or influences. The main challenge is to slow people down, and get them spending time actually experiencing the works, and also actually thinking or analyzing them - I think both are really important.