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Author Topic: The Glamourous Life  (Read 3124 times)

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Online NowherewomanTopic starter

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Re: The Glamourous Life
« Reply #25 on: June 13, 2021, 09:29:46 am »
On Critics and Criticism

There's an old and very unflattering (and unfair) saying: 'Those who can, do. Those who can't teach.' (and those who can't teach teach gym). I'm not sure of the origin, though I have a sneaking suspicion it was a reaction not so much to pubic school (though Gods know we've all had some crap teachers there) as formal academia, where the noise-to-signal ratio is often rather high.*

There's an equivalent, naturally, in the arts: "Those who can, play (or paint, or what have you); those who can't write." My own field is full of tales of critical idiocy, from the person who didn't bother staying for the full concert and wrote about a piece that had been pulled, last-minute from the program; to the small-town reviewer who lamented the 'late entrance' of part of the brass section to the stage, brilliantly unaware that they'd been playing offstage fanfares for the first 5' of the piece; to my personal experience with a person who, when writing about members of a local orchestra, would interview them and then write basically whateverthehell they felt like, changing quotes around and literally in some cases just making shit up. 

So critics generally get a bad rap, loathed and derided even as many of us hover, waiting for that possibly career-boosting (or -ending) writeup to appear.  Is the mockery justified, though?

I'd like to differentiate between two styles of criticism. There are no terms for them that I'm aware of, so I'll call them 'entertainment' and 'art' criticism. Bad labels, easily confused, but I can't come up with better right now.

'Entertainment' criticism is, if you like, the Reader's Digest version. A lot of these writers are actually quite conscientious within their limitations (both personal and imposed); some have arts experience of some sort, others are assigned to 'go see what's happening at the theater down the street' because they're a warm body and their outlet doesn't have a dedicated criticism staff.  These are often the cheerleaders, the people who, if they see or hear any evil, feel their role in the community is to be as strong a booster for their arts institutions as they can be. So things get smoothed out, rough edges polished, negative impressions get softened.  This is noble, I guess, but it's not, in the real sense 'criticism'.

Others in this class are mechanics- that not being a pejorative, but a descriptive. Here's who played, here's what they played, this part sounded good, this part didn't go so well. It's accurate, it's dry, but it's often devoid of context.

'Art' criticism, or if you prefer 'historical' criticism should be, at its best, an educational process, and requires  surprisingly intense and deep training.  Consider opera, a genre I'm not personally overly fond of, but requires, IMO, some of the hardest work to critique well.  To perform 'art' or 'historical' or 'educational' criticism of opera, you need to know a lot more than just whether the trumpet played a wrong note in bar 650. Some things you MUST be aware of:

-The political situation in the composer's home country. Was the libretto subjected to official censorship? Is there more to the text than the typical soap opera plot, some underlying message?
-At least a passing familiarity with the original language AND major translations. No, many if not most audience members won't know this. But the critic should know how well the translation (and the super/subtitles) hew to the
       original. Was intent lost?  What was changed, or cut? Are the cuts 'original', i.e., sanctioned or made by the composer, or where they done for time, or budgetary constraints, or...?
-Performance style of the period. How well has the composer's supposed intent been realized (always a sticky argument between historical purists and modern interpreters).
-Circumstances around the premiere performance. If the Prima got 6 curtain calls for the opening night, and the current interpreter didn't- why? What's different?
-Some knowledge of stagecraft and costuming.

And of course you need to know the score, have some idea of what constitutes good singing and playing- oh, and having at least a passing acquaintance with dance and movement is a plus, especially if you're reviewing Baroque opera, where dance is an integral part of the stage action.

Of course, both branches have their quacks, their pretenders, and their incompetents, as in any field. But, as much as it galls me to say it, that doesn't invalidate the profession itself.


The same, basically, is true of criticism of nearly any art form (TV criticism aside, in my opinion). Both  Entertainment and Art criticism contain, unavoidably, some element of subjectivity- it's art after all, not a mechanical drawing for a chair. In the case of good criticism, however, that subjectivity rests on a foundation of extensive, if not intimate knowledge.

It's a shame that the latter sort seems to be dying out- arts sections even in major papers are getting smaller and, possibly as a result of simply a wider selection of offerings, fewer column inches are dedicated to any specific performance or show, especially compared to the 1940s-70s. It's easier to find an in-depth and thoughtful critique of a video game on Youtube than it is to find one of a concert in a non-specialist newspaper or magazine.


*Among the bullet points of the 'Strategic Plan' recently adopted- unanimously, no less!- by my Alma Mater is to 'Strengthen our financial position'. Because, you know, that's something that needs to be examined and voted on before anyone thinks about actually doing it.  They also are going to 'optimize physical infrastructure'- though towards what ends, the Plan doesn't specify. Might I suggest not cannabis cultivation? If this is the best that seven distinct faculty task forces can come up with, I suspect they're already smoking plenty.

Offline Hellion

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Re: The Glamourous Life
« Reply #26 on: June 16, 2021, 04:50:02 am »

This was a great read and something not often discussed within the artistic circle, because criticism truly does seem to be more of a drive-by "spectator sport" than an actual skill in and of itself.

Quote
In the case of good criticism, however, that subjectivity rests on a foundation of extensive, if not intimate knowledge.


You hit the nail on the head! Anyone is able to comment on whatever they want to comment about, but having a working knowledge of the subject at hand is absolutely key to constructive criticism, especially for those creatives looking to grow in their field of study.


For instance, scrutinizing from a visual arts background, I'd be a poor critic when it came to the performing arts, because while I enjoy a wide array music/dance/theater (etc...), it wasn't something I extensively studied, and wouldn't be able to list the finer points of "stage acting", or "plucking a violin string the correct way", or whether the ballerina's "posture" was correct. 


I would definitely be more of the "Entertainment" critic in that sense, which I think has its merit from a lay point of view. You either like it or you don't, lol


BUT...does that actually help the performer? Probably not so much as it would from a trained critic who can give real direction, and point things out that make sense (even though the artist may not want to hear it).


While it's easy to simply say that creatives by nature are generally so well-invested in their craft that criticism makes them want to give it all up, thereby pushing away any real constructive guidance...that just isn't the blanket answer. Sure, we artists can be a whiny bunch, but deep down we all want to be better at communicating our message to the world or (at least) our target audience.


However, in my own experience, I believe where the core values of constructive criticism are being lost in this day and age, is within social media, and that is a very cut-throat crowd at the worst of times. Since a lot of people follow all disciplines of artwork on some kind of SM platform, it has become the staple of showcasing your best works to a degree. And while it can be a positive thing, I also feel that by virtue of the fact that there is such an informational overload via social media, so-called "critics" don't hang around long enough to give that constructiveness the artist is really hoping for.


We all do it, scrolling through hundreds of images/sound bites/videos, etc at break-neck speed, but how often do we really stop to take it all in? Then, the artwork simply becomes a distant memory, forgotten in the vast sea of the digital world.


Anyway, hopefully I didn't derail the topic too much with some of my own feedback  XD  But, I totally understand the frustrations/concerns regarding Critics and Criticism.


Lovely topic though!

Online NowherewomanTopic starter

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Re: The Glamourous Life
« Reply #27 on: July 13, 2021, 02:24:19 pm »
Sharing this for two reasons:

1)  The way the young woman in the first clip lights up when she finally gets what Starker is saying, and sees that it works;

2) What he has to say about the 'steps' of improving in music (or sport, or any art...or really anything).


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Re: The Glamourous Life
« Reply #28 on: July 20, 2021, 04:52:27 am »
He's absolutely right.  And it can be extremely tough, going from 'someone who is the best in the juniors' to 'someone who is the worst in the seniors'.  And, where I can consider myself to be one of the seniors, it's because I have the fundamentals securely in place.

He doesn't emphasize it, but he also acknowledges that a person who gets to the point of being 'the best of the juniors', well, that's fine.  When it comes to my writing on E, I feel pretty firmly that I'm at the bottom of the next step.  Instead of being really good at the limited number of things I used to be able to perceive, I'm painfully aware of my weaknesses at the stuff I used to ignore completely.  It's reassuring to be reminded of how inevitable that is.