How does criticism not produce a primary experience? Certain critics move me for the beauty of their prose, primarily. I gives a darn whether I agree or disagree with their take on a film. In fact, that’s the last thing I’m interested in. Maybe the thing of least importance in a critical article. To go against Igor again…
“It is the capacity for making good or bad art a personal matter that makes a man a critic.” — Shaw
It’s about personal expression. Feelings. Criticism isn’t a science.
“Primary experience”? Art isn’t producing a “primary experience” (internal) experience either. Art produces a response to art. Criticism produces a response to criticism.
“Notice you are placing the critic with the audience, yet the critic produces something, which amounts to a feedback loop”
The non-publishing critic audience produces something too, it’s just too ephemeral to pin down.
Matt, it is obviously true that one can appreciate an artwork without any reference to criticism, but what I meant by a sort of double remove is that an art work “about” art or another work would still require some explication to explain each and the relationship between the two. This can be done without the need of someone to mediate the experience, but in seeking to untangle the relationships and the “meaning” of each one is then acting as a something of a critic in one’s own right. The critic is making this process an external one, offering mediation between the art and the audience. A good work of criticism is that which offers the person some conceptual framework or set of ideas that they may not have been able to reach on their own or that further contextualizes the experience of the works or points out issues surrounding the relationship that might be problematic once one reflects on the connection beyond immediate experience.
Sure, most everyone may understand that is a painting of a pipe rather than a “real” pipe, but asking a viewer to think about what is a pipe produces the effect of the viewer creating an internal image of a “real” pipe in comparison which, to follow the conception of the painting, would also not be a “real” pipe in that it can’t be smoked or touched either. The real pipe then is one which exists outside on that perception, in the physical world, but to name it as such would require that internal image of the not real pipe to define the real pipe which means the non-real is defining the real in a way. The image precedes the actual and can’t be separated so easily, so in that since the painted pipe is also a pipe even as it is not as it represents the idea of pipeness which would be necessarily for understanding a pipe on any level. The painting creates a tension between ideas of the real and what we think of as the real itself, but that real is also only knowable through a secondary layer of thinking which involves images and language, so in a way it is no more or less real than the painting since to know what a pipe is requires the idea of the thing. One can also see the painting as playing with the idea of whether the physical reality is more real than the psychological or intellectual reality, as well as asking the viewer to respond to the image in opposition to the text in order to determine the “truth” of the statement. Is that not a pipe? The text says not so I can proceed along the lines of asking myself what would make it not a pipe and go along lines mentioned above, or I can question the force of the text in determining how I should respond to the image and deny its validity, thus calling into question the authorial voice and therefore question the relationship of the “author” to meaning and its control amongst other things. One can go along other lines as well, or go further in teasing out implications of the ideas and how it relates to art as a whole, one can accept contradiction or deny it, one can appreciate or find issue with or take pleasure in the form, the technique and how it works with the image or against it or any number of other things. The critic can assist in this and can provide insight or alternative viewpoints that a viewer may not have thought of, or the critic might simply provide a clearer delineation of the ideas that a viewer had but couldn’t quite put into words or they can make the experience of the piece more vivid for the viewer by giving them a framework with which to approach the work or by providing some excitement in the discussion of ideas that wouldn’t necessarily have been felt if the viewer apprehended the work on their own.
I am certainly not romanticizing the role of the artist, if anything I am romanticizing the role of the critic given how infrequently they in fact are able to do what I am suggesting. I love reading criticism, but there isn’t too much of it that I would read as literature for its own sake, in fact I can’t think of any offhand although There must be some. As entertainment maybe, the way I would read other ephemera. It is for the discussion of ideas and meaning and how those things relate to the or a viewer that I look to criticism for, it is an intellectual exercise as opposed to arts more “felt” nature. Both can take in aspects of the other, but for me, art is primarily about producing a response in the viewer and criticism is primarily about explaining that response. The first can certainly appeal to the intellect, but it is more totalizing than that and resists meaning in clear or certain terms, criticism tries to overcome that resistance and provide a language to understand that which has no absolute meaning while simultaneously seeking to uphold the relationship of the totality of response.
In a way it does go back to something Robert has been getting at but which I slightly disagreed with. When Robert says art is dead, or when someone says art is static or lacks expression or meaning what to me is being said is that art is what it is, nothing beyond that and we are providing the meaning to the work it isn’t giving it to us. A film is an organized collection of images and sometimes sounds that create the illusion of a sort of reality, but the images and sounds themselves don’t have “meaning” as such even though they are surely intended to create an effect on the viewer. Our interaction with those images is what creates the meaning, and that meaning is an unstable one which is why the works feel alive in some ways. I can watch Kane and say Bernstein is Jewish and that has some import to the story, while someone else can deny it by saying that is never stated in the film, which is true. I am creating meaning by use of my imagination as it applies to what I am understanding as the information being provided to me and seeking to sort that out into the most representative and powerful explanation of the effect the film had on me, The film remains the same, Bernstein still is and is not a Jew, but my explanation might make his “Jewishness” a little more “real” to someone else, and so slightly altering the work to define what is open, or to have that definition opposed and have it defined another way. This is what keeps the film alive, that process of feeling and attempting to delineate what we each see in the film and how it what we see has or creates an effect on us. That’s what criticism is needed for, once we go too far down the criticism for art path we lose the definitional ability as the work of criticism requires a sort of criticism of its own to be understood. Again, that’s fine, nothing inherently wrong with that idea or with art explaining art, but both will still need to be reduced to the sort of criticism I am speaking of in order to be talked about and understood on a more direct level.
Well, shit, there went my afternoon, I guess I’ll just have to check back later, if I get a chance to respond any further.
I forgot to add one thing, criticism seeks to explain directly what is understood indirectly or “felt”, it is a secondary effect while art is a primary one by this way of thinking. It is akin to a doctor explaining the pain in your belly as being a lesion or a historian giving an explanation of an event one lived through. It may not be necessary in the strictest sense, but it provides a further and better basis for understanding the felt and translating it into language and more usable thought. Art is the more powerful force in that at some point it is irreducible to language or concise thought, but a good critic can harness that power into a more useful form by revealing aspects of its possibilities that may have remained mute without them. As Tarkovsky says, an artist may not be aware of why they have done something or the fuller meaning of it, a critic can suggest some meaning, even if it isn’t a definitive one that can help us understand why an image has the power it does. that is why I think there should be some separation between the two fields, they are relying on different modes of understanding and effect for their work. They aren’t completely separate in that as I mentioned before the critic must use some artistry to communicate their understanding and an artist often must have some intellectual basis for their work, but they are two different manners of communication to my thinking and should be respected for that.
“I am certainly not romanticizing the role of the artist”
That wasn’t a response to anything in particular you said, Greg. I just mean that, in general, even as actual artistic practice has moved on through modernism and postmodernism, Western culture seems to have gotten permanently stuck in a post-Romantic conception of the artist.
“Art is the more powerful force in that at some point it is irreducible to language or concise thought”
How about poetry? Other forms of literature?
This all raises another question. Is this post, that I am writing right now, art? I generally say that something is art if the artist decides for it to be art, but how can you know whether or not I intend this post to be art? Do I know myself if I really intend it to be art? Can one simultaneous be both an artist and a critic, if the art is criticism criticizing itself to be art? Can the use of the word ‘metatext’, itself, carry metatext, when framed in the proper perceptual context?
Ok, I’ve gotten bored with that.
To me, there is the following gap:
Artist’s intention -————→ Artist’s context -——→ | Art | <————— Viewer’s context <——————- Viewer
The critic comes in here:
Art <————— Critic’s Context <————— Critic
. . . . . . . . . . /
Critic’s knowledge about artist’s context
. . . . . . . . ./
Critic’s conjecture about artist’s intention -——→ |Review| <——————— Viewer -————→ Viewer’s context
The critic attempts to improve the breadth of the viewer’s context by writing about his or her conjecture of the artist’s intention based on his or her informed perspective on the artist.
Bobby, with poetry and literature it is more that a different kind of language is used. Reading any of the great writers who wrote criticism like Auden or Jarrell, or a critic who wrote fiction like Edmond Wilson one can see the difference in style of address and concern they adopt for their criticism compared to their other writing. There have been so many great literary critics, often practitioners of the art they criticize that is is almost unfair to compare literature to film in this way.
In part this can be traced back to the badminton analogy used earlier in that literature developed its critical style before the increased emphasis on ideological or cultural concerns that have been the domain of so much critical writing on film. Film writing didn’t get much of a chance to really build the same kind of tradition before the changes in thinking about criticism occurred in the fifties and sixties, which is why I think looking bakc to earlier styles of critical address might serve film criticism well as a way to expand on its concerns and increase understanding and appreciation of the form. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the more modern emphasis on the cultural and ideological should be abandoned, but it would be helped if there was a deeper pool of writing on film from which to draw to more fully attend to what films are doing, how they do it and what it might mean. Literary criticism does provide some examples of what that kind of thinking might look like as there is no shortage of brilliant critics in that arena, some of which, as I mentioned, were also practioners of the art, but others of whom mostly just wrote about it.
Going back to one of the main points of the piece regarding film essays, i would suggest that one of the concerns of Godard is the gap between language and the seen or felt, that he finds this almost intolerable and seels to find a way to bridge that gap or at least call attention to it. His films can be seen as being art about criticism in a way. This goes back to the question of whether the essay film can create a sort of new form or be a hybrid of art/criticism that can effectively serve two masters simultaneously, and to that I can’t give a definitive answer other than suggest that those films might be more profitably thought of as simply being essays rather than criticism as such since that is a better analogy to my mind as the essay has a long history of being that kind of in-between form.