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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

. . . And the band plays on

With this week's publication of The Onion's spot-on spoof of Pitchfork's reviews, I bring up an issue that's been on my mind as late. No, it's not the hilarious sting found in the last sentence (Maher termed Schreiber's assessment of music "overwrought, masturbatory posturing intended to make insecure hipsters feel as if they're part of some imagined elite beau monde."). And it goes beyond looking like you just rolled out of bed, haven't shaved in ten days, put on some dirty clothes and claim you seriously like mind-numbing hip-hop more than tuneful rock music.

Without trying to get too broad, I think about what is remembered more: the art or the criticism of the art? More often than not, it's the art.

Sure, you may still hear about how a riot occurred when Stravinsky's "The Rite of Spring" debuted, but do you ever hear about how Beethoven's Ninth Symphony was received by the main newspaper in Germany? You may see some lines from glowing reviews of a movie on a DVD box or a CD, but they are praising a movie or an album. They help market the product and lend credibility.

Usually outliving whatever critics thought of it when it first came out, I wonder why we put stock in criticism in general. As somebody who's been doing a permutation of criticism, reflection and philosophy for a few years, I kinda get the creeps when I think about this. It reminds me to do more than just talk about how good a show, a CD or a movie went. Simply, I've always wanted to do something more than write about whether you should buy something or not. Maybe that's why I stick to blogging . . .

1 comment:

Random Kath said...

I am not sure if I am taking your statements correctly, but here's how I look at criticism:

Good criticism informs my choices, whether it be for a book, a movie, or a CD. Sometimes it stands as shorthand - do I want to waste my $10 on this or not? Sometimes it stands as something for me to compare my own opinion to - for example, I recently saw "Superbad" (don't ask why) and after seeing it and then reading a lot of the reviews for it, it allowed me to see how people were spot on or way off base, and also introduced some ways of looking at the movie that I hadn't thought about.

That's what good criticism does - it's a jumping off point to start your own discovery into a work.

I also usually factor the biases of the critic into the weight of the criticism itself. For example, if you've got Bill Kristol reviewing a book on the 60s peace movement, you know that there's going to be some negativity there about the subject to start with . . .

Yes, the art will last longer than the criticism, but the criticism itself reflects the time and place and biases of the era in which it was written, which is why it is sometimes fun to look back at old reviews and go "boy, was THAT off!" or "yes, they were right, but people didn't want to see it then" . . .