An artist and a critic
are publicly feuding.
Based on no other
info than that,
which one are you
more likely to support?
“But Alllllllaaaaannnnnnn,” I hear you already whining, “it all depends on who that artist and critic is! If either of them is someone whose work I respect, that’s going to make a huge difference.”
Well, obviously. But I’m deliberately keeping it abstract because I’m genuinely curious about the effect the Internet is having on the artist v. critic dynamic in a culture where becoming one or the other has become that much easier.
In an age of Goodreads and Amazon and Letterboxd, I can’t help but notice definite sides being drawn in a way that didn’t seem apparent before and there’s a weird antagonism between them that seems at odds with what we would assume is their mutual co-dependance. To be successful an artist needs an audience and to critique a work of art a critic needs an artist to create one.
But this dynamic isn’t completely equal and even here there is conflict. People faithful to the teachings of the French deconstructionists would argue that the very notion of a “creator” is an illusion and that a work only truly exists once it has been considered by, I dunno, let’s say a French deconstructionist (although that does seem a tad convenient)–art only being able to exist through its analysis and not its actual existence. To put it more succinctly, the people on this side of the equations would say, “Game of Thrones does not exist until I have written a blog post about it and that blog post doesn’t exist until it gets at least four comments and 20 page views.”
Whereas others–most often those who do the heavy lifting of actually creating art–would argue that this is bullshit. That it is the effort and labour of the artist that creates the art and everything that happens after that is simply a whole bunch of yadda-yadda-yak-yak. No matter what anyone ultimately says about the work, that effort defines the experience as much as the actual product itself (he wrote with a very real and deliberately unpublished novel that only three other people in the world have read and still very much exists on his computer).
I tend to hew closer to the latter of these two sides. I actually love discussing pop culture, but I prefer to do so in a way that’s ultimately sympathetic to the artistic experience rather than openly contemptuous of it. I personally think that the idea of reducing commentary to a kind of consumer protectionism (“This movie/book/TV show/album is bad, so avoid experiencing it.”) is ridiculous considering it is an entirely subjective experience and many of my favourite works are thought to be the worst efforts of their kind by people quite capable of writing an Amazon review or for the New York Times. But I also have little patience for those who filter every work through their highly specific political lens–no matter what their chosen philosophy.
In other words, I like to keep it glib and light. I like to throw in a little of the history my first film studies professor dismissed as “trivia”, because for me the great thing about art is that the artist ISN’T dead. They are very much alive and live through their work, which has endured for a reason. Sure I can disagree with them, but I’d have to be a pretty big jerk to deny them completely. They are–after all–the one who made that disagreement possible in the first place. I didn’t just make it up myself.
But because I have also toiled creatively, it’s easy for me to appreciate not only the effort, but the essential humanity of artists. Whenever I see a book, I appreciate the effort that went into it, because I have written more than a dozen myself. I know both how hard AND easy it can be. And I know how strange it is to have your effort dismissed or praised by someone who is clearly dealing with their own issues (just take a quick look at my bio below for one good example).
For this reason, in the abstract, I’m always going to cheer on the artist, especially when I see more and more of the critical community treat creators as an inconvenience to be dealt with rather than the lifeblood they simply could not do without.
Do you think I’m too soft? Do you believe criticism is a key pillar of societal change and that its importance trumps all else? If you saw a critic call for the boycott of the work of an artist you had never heard of before, how would you react? Would you think this was reasonable or outrageous? Or do you think both sides are full of it and we would all be better off in a culture where such matters were done away with completely?