Thursday, 7 January 2016

Being a Critic: Generosity

If not exactly reluctant, I am a little tentative about writing about 'how to be a critic'. I'm never shy to express an opinion, and do have a clear set of guidelines for my own practice - which I happily explain to students who join one of my various groups (latest sessions available: Young Critics at Manipulate).

But I also believe in the validity of all opinion, in that it expresses an individual's relationship to a work of art. And so, an incoherent scream of outrage is as informative as my increasingly obscure comparisons between French Revolutionary Theatre and The Glasgow Effect. They are part of a multi-perspectival discussion of aesthetics or, if I want to make sense, the general conversation about how art and society get along.

Besides, I critique for a living, and revealing my secret strategies can help readers understand where I am coming from. And I have to teach a class on this soon.

Oh yeah. And the whole of Glasgow is a critic now. 

Let me introduce the first principle and foundation.


Because I read a few pages of Mimesis: Culture, Art, Society, I believe that there are two approaches to criticism. One of these examines a text within the context of a (predetermined and external) set of rules. The other attempts to see what the text is trying to say, and assesses its success in terms of its intentions.

I belong to the latter school of thought, even as I realise that this
isn't what the chapter on The Conflict Over History actually says. 

Gebauer and Wulf actually identify a period of French history during which a traditionalist approach to criticism - using Aristotle and the ancients as a rule-book to the value of a work - battled with an idea that would become crucial for both romantic and modernist* artists: that the reader's taste could define the quality. The former is an attempt to set up a stable pattern for analysis, while the latter allows a more subjective interpretation.

I like the subjective version. For the French who agreed with me before I thought of it, this subjectivity allowed them to imagine a French culture, one that progressed, challenged the authority of the past and recognised how art could still be amazing and not conform to any idea of what it 'should' be.

These French guys tended to be the philosophes, who wrote about everything and used their wisdom to undermine the power of the monarchy. 

The other French guys tended to like the monarchy, and social stability, and feudalism and classicism and baroque architecture and that. 

But in brief, I am a bit more on the side of those who understand art as an individual event, that defines its own terms of reference. I call this generosity to the art. I flatter myself that I can apply this same logic to people, and treat them as individuals, too.

There are a few problems, though...

*romanticism and modernism are subdivisions of bourgeois theatre

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