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Sunday, 08 June 2014


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I just read an interesting piece on (book) criticism. Part of its point was that, since most reviews have to review work of little merit, the review itself should be good literature -

"The point is not to be constructive but to construct something of lasting value in the little space and little time you’re granted. "

See http://www.openlettersmonthly.com/absent-friends-lean-years-of-plenty/

And into this thread you dropped one of your own: " Often, now, criticism is intended to be armor, to protect claims of value."

Indeed. I think I'll be able to use that!


Thank you for the Mark Crispin Miller piece. It made my day. Barry Lyndon is one of my favorite films. It is a challenging piece of work but if you calm down and accept the deliberate pace it will reward you with a wonderful film.

My initial interest in was because of the photography. Kubrick and John Alcott did some groundbreaking stuff using super high speed lenses allowing them to shoot by candle light.
You can read more about it here if you like.


It's interesting to see how as you get older you find new things in works that moved you when you were younger.

Thanks Mike

It's not unusual for artists, especially writers, to desire the destruction of vast swaths of work at the end of their years. Could this be the result of a lifetime of effort colliding with a lifetime of criticism?

Paul Shaffer is the same guy who turned down Jerry Seinfeld's offer to play the role of George Costanza.

He did compose the Late Show theme, and has done many other things musically and otherwise.

[Yes, he's very accomplished and deserves his success. I hear he has a great sense of humor, too. I don't think he qualifies as a great musician judged against the best of his peers, however. --Mike]

I was watching an episode of Kenneth Clark's Civilisation recently, and the following passage stayed with me, to the extent that I replayed the segment later and wrote it down (I may have parsed or punctuated incorrectly): "The Renaissance historian of art Vasari, when he asked himself why it was in Florence more than elsewhere that men became perfect in the arts, gave as his first answer 'The spirit of criticism, the air of Florence making minds naturally free and not content with mediocrity'. And this harsh, outspoken criticism meant that there was no gap of incomprehension between the intelligent patron and the artist. Our contemporary attitude of pretending to understand works of art in order not to be considered philistines would have seemed absurd to the Florentines. They were a tough lot... Whereas the Athenians loved philosophical argument, the Florentines were chiefly interested in making money and playing appalling practical jokes on stupid men. However, they had a good deal in common with the Greeks. They were curious, they were extremely intelligent, and they had, to a supreme degree, the power of making their thoughts visible."

How interesting. I've always thought Paul Shaffer found his perfect niche. He's not a great musician, but he makes a good living, has regular hours, and gets to play with absolutely everyone. My goal is to find myself a niche equally as well-fitting and satisfying.

This post has given me much to consider.

[I think it's quite possible he did find the perfect niche. I'm the last guy who would begrudge anyone their perfect niche (he said from his perfect niche [g]).

Still and all, I reserve more respect for Branford Marsalis, who walked away from the same gig at the Tonight Show after two and a half years. Here's his take: "My dad and I had a conversation once I made the decision I was going to leave the show. He said once you leave the show you really can't bitch about anything ever because you've been put in a situation where you could have had a very, very lucrative career without the pressure of the expectations from the music community. Once you decide you want to get back into this, you have to take the bitter with the sweet. I thought about it and he was right. You won't hear any complaining from me and I've mostly kept my word on that." (Quoted in LAweekly)

He decided he'd rather make music. So check out "Four MF's Playin' Tunes." --Mike]

As Jerry Cornelius, the protagonist in Michael Moorcock's The Condition of Muzak cynically observes (I paraphrase slightly): 'Kubrick's films have everything but a good director.'

A critical analysis of criticism........Things must be slow up there is Sconsin. It is amazing the things that come to mind while grilling brats.

When you say, "Criticism isn't a central art in our culture," I would disagree, especially as it applies to art forms. I think criticism began to move to a central spot in the mid 19th Century in France, when new art forms like Impressionist painting had to be explained to a skeptical public. Criticism became essential with the rise of Cubism and abstract art, which didn't have any obvious pictorial meaning or even decorative value, and this began to seep into the photographic area as photographers began working with abstraction and surrealism.

During none of that time was art criticism as important as it is now. Tom Wolfe wrote an entire book about this ("The Painted Word") in which he portrays himself as suddenly realizing that late 20th Century painting really made no sense outside the words that explained it -- in other words, you had to have a critical theory before you could understand a painting or sculpture, or even make one.

There's a somewhat notorious story about the famous minimalist sculptor Carl Andre, who supposedly as a young man just out of college showed up at a gallery with some rough sketches of a layer of bricks arranged in a simple rectangle on a floor, which he proposed to call a sculpture. The gallery owner turned him down without much thought, and Andre simply left the sketches at the gallery. Some time later, a critic for a major paper or magazine stopped by the gallery, saw the sketches, was captivated by the idea, and wrote a rave review. The gallery owner called Andre, who hastily bought some bricks and took them to the gallery and laid them out of the floor. He literally became a famous minimalist sculptor before he'd even made a sculpture, because of a critic, and his whole career has flowed from that moment.

I may have told this story here before, but I was once at the National Gallery waiting for my wife, looking down on a Richard Serra Core-Ten steel wall-like piece near a lower-level bathroom. I watched over some short period of time as a few dozen people came and went from the bathrooms, and not a single one of them paused to look at the piece, and I don't think a single one of them actually realized that what they were walking past was a sculpture. Without critics, I don't believe this whole internationally famous artistic genre would even be recognized as art.

In fact, I think that the whole economic structure of art in our time -- say, since 1945 -- depends on criticism. One of the weaknesses of photography as an art form is that it doesn't have this robust critical structure to support it, to proclaim new artists and new talents, and, not least of all, to suggest to potential buyers that they could make a bundle if they get in early.

This is kind of a random comment, but I love Barry Lyndon and re-watch it ever few years.

In addition to being a teriffic picture, it's taught me a lot about how to make low-light shots look gorgeous and convey emotion.

Two remarks totally uncorrelated (sic).

1 / Self-criticism is the specificity of a single civilization, that of the descendants of Socrates and Plato ... can I say ours?
2 / Negative criticism is sterile, egotistical; it is a waste of time and energy for everyone.

Just heard this yesterday, during a portfolio review while attending the last day of a workshop on photographic reportages:
The Author: "As you asked, I'm back with my work and followed your suggestion to edit out what I think are the weaker pictures."
The Critic, after taking a look at the photos:
"You left out all the best ones..."
The point is, he edited out what he thought was not expressing the MEANING of the project - but the critic pointed out exactly the opposite. IMHO, sometimes a less experienced photographer can FEEL subconsciously when a photo had the intended meaning, but when is asked to use the rational part of his mind to evaluate his work, he lacks experience under his belt and discard what otherwise "works well".

"Wagner is the Puccini of music"

To quote Nietzche: "All things are subject to interpretation. Whatever interpretation prevails at the time is a function of power and not truth".

As a creator, an artists 'best work' is likely to be that which most clearly conveys their intent, which of course is not what the observer is actually judging. However, intent is the only 'truth' in art, even if it can never be adequately or unambiguously expressed. Everything else is subjective, or at least self-referential and subject to fashion.

I am not saying criticism and opinion have no value, just that it is very hard for any of us to see further than our own preconceptions, which were largely instilled in us by our subjective reaction to the very same establishment. It is a loop that is very hard to break out of unless we make a conscious effort to cut the circle.

Artists have a duty to break out of the loop, but in so doing they risk isolation and relative obscurity. Posterity doesn't put food on the table.

I was at a friend's gallery show opening on Saturday. After reading this I will send him my observations and thoughts on his photos, which were really excellent.

The artist edits to express himself. The marketer edits to sell more stuff.

It is the rare artist that can do both.

Yesterday my teenage daughter said something like: "I should be a food critic, I don't like anything."

"Egregious canard". Is there a universally accepted "standard", or is it opinion? Must have missed that class. Sure hope there is an iPhone app for that, an easily applied standard of good vs bad art, that doesn't require education, thinking, and then having an opinion?

Having an external editor, or critic, changes a personal vision to a collaborative vision; guess I'd rather muddle along with my bad personal vision.

[Hi Bron,

Nobody here said you had bad personal vision.

Someday I will tackle an essay as to why art appreciation is not just "a matter of opinion." It should make for an entertaining rant even if you don't end up agreeing with it. But it will have to wait until the puppy grows up. At the moment, I'm exhausted. --Mike]

To John Camp's observation of museum patrons walking by a Serra, there is that famous experiment with Joshua Bell playing as a busker in the DC Metro only to be recognized by 1 person in a full day of playing: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/04/04/AR2007040401721.html

Perhaps some modernist works need some kind of critical framework to appreciate, but more than anything, good art often requires a presence of mind and concentration to appreciate, too.

"Someday I will tackle an essay as to why art appreciation is not just "a matter of opinion." It should make for an entertaining rant even if you don't end up agreeing with it. But it will have to wait until the puppy grows up. At the moment, I'm exhausted. --Mike]"

Looking forward to it!


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