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ColoradoGuy
04-11-2010, 09:17 PM
William Haskins (http://authorscoop.com/) passed on this article (http://www.tnr.com/article/books-and-arts/the-read-pound-them-keyboards) in the New Republic. I find it quite interesting. It's about what aspects of a piece of art cause critics to take diametrically opposed viewpoints of worth and meaning. The article discusses dance and writing mostly, but it could apply to any work of art. From the article:

"The works that make people violently disagree are often the ones that push the boundaries of a genre in one way or another. Boundary-pushing, obviously, is no guarantee of greatness: Jonathan Littell’s The Kindly Ones, beloved and prize-bedecked in France and almost universally hated elsewhere (including by me), is the best recent example. But historically, it’s happened over and over that the critics who fail to see the merit in an unconventional artistic form—who found Impressionism vulgar or judged Lady Chatterley’s Lover as pornography—turn out to have been wrong, no quotation marks required. They were too small-minded, too bound within their own parameters, to be capable of a new way of understanding art."

Ruv Draba
05-12-2010, 05:14 AM
Our minds seem to build criteria for good and bad based on old contexts, old perceptions, old reactions, old arguments and we tend to keep those criteria long after their use-by date. Sometimes it takes a lot for us to even question their legitimacy -- after all, we own our opinions, and socially our opinions are much of how we are perceived (so is it rather that sometimes our opinions own us?)

Opinions are valuable commodities -- especially for writers, but they can be burdensome too. Some opinions are burdensome because we have them at all; others because of the weight of pomp and authority we attach to them. I suppose it's even worse when the weight of pomp and authority is our own.

It's odd, but while our tastes change all through our lives, I can't off-hand remember an arts critic writing that his earlier opinion was wrong. But that's a pity, because I think that changing opinions are among the most interesting of all.

poetinahat
05-12-2010, 05:32 AM
The quoted examples - finding Impressionism vulgar, or judging Lady Chatterley's Lover as pornography - make me wonder where the division lies between criticising the validity of a work as art and criticising it as an affront to one's personal sensibilities.

The two aren't the same at all, in my view; a loose analogy is that, while I respect and admire Silence of the Lambs as a superbly made film, it horrified me, and I wish I'd never seen it.

Ruv Draba
05-12-2010, 11:33 AM
Critique is partly analysis of craft, partly discussion of ideas.

Sometimes we can dislike the ideas but appreciate the craft. I agree with the Hatted Poet that this is no obstacle to fair critique. Silence of the Lambs has a lot to commend it as a tale of mystery, horror and suspense, but it's not for everyone.

Sometimes we can't see craft because it's so new we don't recognise it. But when that happens, we'll at least notice that the art is unfamiliar and can exercise the wisdom to keep our mouths shut and minds open until we learn something. The Impressionism example is of that sort, but revolution is far less common in art than evolution, so these examples are rare.

Sometimes though, we can't see craft because we can't get past some affront in the ideas. At those times I think it's fine to talk about the ideas and recuse ourselves from critiquing the craft -- we just need to acknowledge that we're reacting and not critiquing. A wise critic knows his own limits. Lady Chatterley's Lover might well be such an example -- and since artists like to challenge audiences, this sort of problem arises all the time.

Like most writers I value critique and reaction both -- and bad reactions can be very valuable. But also like most writers I don't value reaction masquerading as critique.

With that said, I can't off-hand recall an art critic admitting ignorance of craft. One has to wonder about the integrity of a profession that has difficulty admitting ignorance or new learning while the field it studies is ever-changing.

Medievalist
05-12-2010, 08:32 PM
The quoted examples - finding Impressionism vulgar, or judging Lady Chatterley's Lover as pornography - make me wonder where the division lies between criticising the validity of a work as art and criticising it as an affront to one's personal sensibilities.

The two aren't the same at all, in my view.

I agree; I can't stand Henry James, and would have to be paid to read him ever again (when I passed the Ph.D exam on novels, I put all my Henry James, D.H. Lawrence, and Tobias Smollet in storage) but I do understand why he is considered "great."

robeiae
05-12-2010, 11:54 PM
I very badly want to make an observation about Jerry Lewis here, but I'll refrain.

But wasn't A Confederacy of Dunces sneered at when the author sought publication?

Ruv Draba
05-13-2010, 01:49 AM
wasn't A Confederacy of Dunces sneered at when the author sought publication?The book was published eleven years after the author's suicide. I don't know that it was sneered at, but seem to recall from the foreword by another writer that the author had great difficulty trying to get it published.

childeroland
05-16-2010, 04:52 AM
Speaking of delays in publishing, does anyone know why Henry Roth's "Batch Two" took so long to get out in any form? Was there a mixed critical response to Mercy of a Rude Stream, was that why?

Lady Ice
11-22-2010, 12:12 AM
I can't off-hand remember an arts critic writing that his earlier opinion was wrong. But that's a pity, because I think that changing opinions are among the most interesting of all.

In 1978, theatre critic Michael Billington was originally negative about harold Pinter's play Betrayal- he said "[Pinter] has betrayed his immense talent by serving up this kind of high-class soap opera". Now every time he reviews a production, he admits that he was initially wrong:



Michael Billington in the Guardian (four stars) – “Another Betrayal (http://www.whatsonstage.com/tickets/theatre//L2081263526/.html)? It's only four years since Peter Hall (http://www.whatsonstage.com/index.php?pg=209&name=Peter Hall)'s production of Pinter's time-reversing play about the labyrinthine nature of deceit. Roger Michell (http://www.whatsonstage.com/index.php?pg=209&name=Roger Michell)'s revival is more than justified by its mix of physical fluidity, emotional precision, and accumulating sense of pain ... Superbly played by Samuel West (http://www.whatsonstage.com/index.php?pg=209&name=Samuel West), Robert initially seems a cold, calculating bastard viewing the fluctuations of adultery with sublime indifference … This in no way diminishes the other performances. Dervla Kirwan (http://www.whatsonstage.com/index.php?pg=209&name=Dervla Kirwan) as Emma has the capacity to act thought … Toby Stephens (http://www.whatsonstage.com/index.php?pg=209&name=Toby Stephens) invests the adulterous Jerry with a paradoxical innocence … The virtue of Michell's production is it leaves no crevice unexplored; and it is much aided by William Dudley (http://www.whatsonstage.com/index.php?pg=209&name=William Dudley)'s design which, with its swirling white curtains, beautifully counterpoints the formal symmetry of Pinter's exquisitely crafted play. Having rubbished it back in 1978, I am happier than ever to eat my words.”

http://www.haroldpinter.org/plays/plays_betrayal8.shtml

LaceWing
11-22-2010, 07:44 PM
Zadie Smith makes a strong case for the writer-reviewer role in this Guardian article from 2007 (http://zadiesmithnews.wordpress.com/2007/01/20/read-better/).