01 January 2007

Musings on art criticism from a student's perspective

The teenage daughter of a friend of mine ponders: "what does a young Christian do who wants to become a good critic, but is trying at the same time to be merciful, generous, and open-hearted? how do we escape from being petty and small-spirited, while at the same time being truthful? if we are looking at the city as one that has the hope of a New Jerusalem, then should we look at art also as having a hope for perfection? if a key part of art is this world's brokenness, then what is the place of art, and criticism of art, in a place that is not yet fully redeemed, but which always has hope? How can artists and critics work to make wonder full 'metaphors' of the many different glints and hues of experiences? do we approach artistic pottery the same way we do a painting in a high end New York museum? or native music in the same way as an opera? how can we differentiate and change our judgment accordingly? is it the usefulness of a thing that makes one craft and another art? is it technical skill? materials? Is it the responsibility of every human to know/understand/enjoy art? is there a place for kitsch, in car windows? where, if it exists, is the place for that dry, insulting wit that critics use so often? in extremity, is art a luxury to be discarded?"

One commenter, Sam Helgerson, replies to her with some words of wisdom:

"Let me encourage you to think of criticism as an element of discernement; we must learn to speak truth in love. I think a righteous critic will:
1) Never attack the artist, merely the art. Personal attacks have no place in responsible criticism.
2) Understand that all art is contextual. My failure to appreciate a particular piece of art may be because I do not live in his/her world.
3) Assess whether the artist is inept. Some artists may not be worth criticizing. Look at other examples of the artist's work and see what they are capable of. The point of criticism, in a Christian setting, is redemptive. If criticism cannot redeem the art or correct error, one might be wise to move along.
4) Stay humble. I have known critics (and, perhaps, I have been critics) who were overly impressed with their critical abilities and the *destruction* of an artist. This helps no one, least of all, the critic.
5) Practice, and be committed to, an art. I believe it was Michaelangelo who said 'Critique by creating.' Remain an artist, foremost, and let one's criticism be an expression of the standards to which any artist ought to aspire. There are artists I respect though I do not like their work (and vice versa)."

I couldn't have put it better myself. Any further thoughts on the questions Hannah raises?

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