I’m passing some time today by listening to this while working (and because I’m one of the few idiots who will still defend the LOST finale), and this bit, which is really just a quick aside in an otherwise fine conversation, sent up a red flag. It’s something you hear creative people across all different disciplines say from time to time: this assumption that having worked the mechanics (or bureaucracy) involved in getting mass-audience art made yourself is somehow essential to interpreting and critiquing the final product, with this hint of a defensive attitude underneath it that says “What, you think you can do better??”
Pop culture commentary and criticism is its own art form with its own craft, processes, audience, and all that stuff. It’s an art of explicit argument rather than suggestion or obfuscation, but it’s still ultimately put out into the world for other people to enjoy and react to and think about (a strict interpretation of Xgau’s “consumer guide” schtick is pretty well useless in the modern age so don’t even go there). The problem is that it relies on other art to fuel it, so people in those other arts can be understandably defensive about their work. [I would like to note, though, that music critics have been rather generous about the instances where the tables have been turned and their work has been portrayed in movies as childish (High Fidelity), sentimental (Almost Famous), or creepily highfalutin (American Psycho).] But this is how things are: if you put your name on something that goes out into the world for people to enjoy and react to, you expose yourself to criticism. And the legitimacy of any critique can’t be contingent upon the critic’s experience with anything else but the listening/reading/viewing experience at hand.
I personally think all art of any ‘brow’ should work this way, but come on: it’s Pop. The only barrier to entry is “did you see/read/listen to it?”
Plus, also - this is fish in a barrel stuff, but it does annoy - good critics are comparing your film to all the other films they’ve seen, which presumably have gone through many if not all of the same processes! This can lead to its own kinds of myopia - assumptions of meritocracy and equal barriers within a biz, for starters. - but “it’s hard to get a film/album/comic made” is really a non-starter as a defense of a bad one since it’s presumably also fairly hard to get all the good ones made. (And yes this goes the other way too - “it’s hard to listen well” is no excuse for shitty criticism)
(There are TOTALLY situations where the Pollak defense is highly sympathetic, though - mostly where the criticism amounts to “waaaah why I can’t I have it faster?”, “why can’t I have more of it?”)
(AND and and, I know artists saying this stuff are probably talking about entitled fans shouting at them on Twitter or in person, but good critics - in my opinion! - aren’t writing to or for the artist. If they are, they should call it an “Open Letter To” and then fire themselves.)
(& one last sidepoint - good art is very often also better criticism than any criticism, so while the “you need to be an artist to criticise” point isn’t true, “you will be a better critic if you are an artist” point often is, it’s just said criticism may well not be in the form of words on a screen)
perhaps it doesn’t need to be said since it does seem like i’m replying to the lack of something that exists in implication-taken-as-read-that-everyone-reading-this-knows-better but, it serves a worthwhile clarification for potential “peanut galleries” that criticism, as a seemingly derivative art (much like other forms of derivative art, such as but not limited to: “fanfiction”, “fanart”, “mixtapes” - these also share a marked tendency by average members of their producing population at any level to appeal to the shared knowledge pools of a community that render them obtuse or unpleasant to outsiders; not coincidentally, i’m pretty sure, easily labeled “nerdy”), often gets itself overlooked as an art, that has forms, structures, styles, deviations, deconstructions, rabbitholes, avant-garde methods, clever amateurs and brilliant professionals, morons, egotists, sycophants, competent workaholics, steady draftspeople, and all other kinds of “artist” that you could name, and by continuing to place emphasis on its derived nature it is easy to lose sight of that which is idiosyncratic to its art, and singular, and underivable from other disciplines.
criticism, at its core, is about explanation. you can gesture towards and away from clarity or ambiguity in the service of same, you can do so by stealing tricks from other artistic forms, you can create new techniques out of whole cloth (chances are, someone else has done it first, but that doesn’t mean you know that, or what that looks like) to convey that explanation in more meaningful ways if you must, but criticism explains. perhaps the crucial failure (and the reason so many critics are insecure with themselves, and the reason it’s so easy to blind oneself to what one does, if one chooses to be a critic) is that criticism is terrible at explaining itself, but it is art, the art of exposition.
like all art it can be done badly, like all art there are places where its borders become fungible and porous, but it is not another kind of artistic expression. treating it like it is inadequate, constantly seeking to force it into “living up to” the standards of other art - when they have different purposes - that’s a zero-sum game a critic is damned to lose.
i don’t want to play that game. i mean, i’m saying this not so much to be prescriptive of anyone else’s methodology, but it helps clarify why i think what i think, it’s descriptive, and it’s what drives the above feeling - if i am to wear a critic’s hat - and it’s not the only artistic hat i want to wear, or the only career i have, or pursue - then when i wear that hat i’m wearing it as a critic first, because that is the work i am for, and if i suborn illustration to that, or animation, or letters, i still want it clear what i’m about. it’s an art form. i want to be considered an aspiring artist, in the same way a drawblog is viewed as same. that means the stuff i do on this blog - the self-reblogs, the analysis, the offhand comments adding lived color to the weird deep dives, the contextual reblogs, the self-promotion, all of it, the connections i’m making - it’s all practice. it’s training in the art. i don’t see it as anything else. call it pretension if you want. i call it careerist. this is what i do - what i wanna do. ain’t nobody gonna stop me.
i, the critic, destroy the inexplicable, and replace it with interpretation. i know this is art because that interpretation becomes, then, equally destructible in its turn. i need no other justification for believing it to be such. other people’ve got their own reasons, i guess. this is why i choose to do it.
I’ve said some of this here before (and said more of it in conversations, and thought even more of it), but mostly I just wanted all three of these excellent responses here on my tumblr.