Being a Critic of the Arts
Everyday, we act as critics, i.e., deciding which film to see or which channel to watch. Much of the time, experience guides us through the aesthetic judgments we make. Left on our own, however, we can go only so far. As Martin and Jacobus (1997) argue, in studying the essentials of criticism and in learning how to put them into practice, we develop our capacities as critics (p. 48).
We all resist taking on the critic's role because we value the participatory experience. Losing ourselves in a "good" film is one thing, and thinking about it critically is another. If we were to choose, we would probably prefer the former. After all, we might argue that art should be enjoyed. By the same token, we know that "good" critics help us appreciate the complexities and the subtleties of works of art. In sharing their insight into the uniqueness of a work, say, they help us appreciate what's going on. In this way, in fact, they help us become critics.
2. the critical response
Usually, the initial response is an emotional one: this can be described as the pre-critical response. What interests us as would-be critics is the critical or reflective response that follows. This reflection can intensify our appreciation of the work in question, i.e., sharpen our perception of its form and increase our understanding of its content. What is problematic for all critics is expressing in the very different medium of conceptual prose that unique, untranslatable quality that pervades a work of art in the medium of music, painting, and so on. As Martin and Jacobus argue, we can distinguish three kinds of criticism or critical activities, which go into the actual writing:
Here, the critic concentrates on the form of a work of art and describes the important characteristics of that form in order to improve our understanding of the entire work. In this way, critics turn our attention directly to the work itself, helping us "see" it. In other words, good descriptive criticism calls attention to what we might otherwise miss in artistic form, which we have defined as the interrelationships of part to part and part to whole in a work of art (p. 50).
For example, notice how Martin and Jacobus direct our attention to the three primary images of Aunt Jemima in The Liberation of Aunt Jemima (1972), so as to highlight Betye Saar's use of repetition--thereby emulating advertising's repetition of this cultural icon (as a brand name). As the authors point out, what we see when we glance at the title is an "ironic" liberation (p. 51).
Remember that form has two distinctions:
* details, which are the objective qualities that belong to the work, i.e., the connections of a dancer's movements at one moment to those of a subsequent moment, and
* structure, which concerns itself with the totality of the work of art and the relation of any details or regions to that totality. Of course, structure is...