Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Criticism, As Companion to Art

I have thought of art as a necessity; and I have thought of criticism as a companion to art, and it has become a necessity as well.

I see a film and read a review of it--before seeing or after; and sometimes, if I find the film interesting enough I write a review of it. I listen to music and try to imagine how I would describe it to a friend or a disinterested acquaintance. The content I discover in a work of art or entertainment, and the pleasure I find, is deepened and extended by a review--or a bunch of reviews.

Criticism is the recovery, in language and thought, of objects from the near and distant past; and it provides context, an explanation of genre, and a disclosure of artistic strategies that are social as much as they are aesthetic. Critics can help us to understand the current work of an artist in light of standards established by the artist's own work as well as the tradition or traditions to which he or she belongs; and criticism can celebrate the highest manifestations of craft, as it introduces us to new talent or reminds us of the existence of neglected or obscure artists: describing the rare qualities of each artist.

There is little more valuable culturally than the reinterpretation of misunderstood or maligned artists, sometimes offering retrospective summaries of artists' careers: that reinterpretation can tell us as much about ourselves, our society, and our values as anything, illuminating the politics of art.

We can learn about the nature of experimental art (what is to be gleaned from it); and about false radicalism, when experiment exists merely to impress and not to express or teach. We can be reminded that art has a spirituality, that it is infused, always, with the human spirit. We can learn about each other--through folk art, international art, expanding knowledge. Criticism can help us to understand how artists express themselves in ancillary words (in books, speeches, interviews) and how that complements or contradicts their works? And criticism can help us to appreciate, to sympathize with, to tolerate, how practical matters--money and power--affect the artistic world. Criticism can be a companion to art, to us.