Friday, April 30, 2010

On criticism

I remember watching "Up in the Air" (the book is better!). The critics unanimously agree on George Clooney’s "raw portrayal", but reading those pieces of criticism left me wondering if a critic can ever identify with Ryan Bingham the way some of us do. The Us who've taken the red-eye, and have spent time picking shoes that don't get caught in the dreaded metal detector. Can a critic ever feel the coldness of the hotel room, and the abandon with which one approaches a single-serve conversation at the end of a tired day across a bar stool? Can a critic imagine how troubling it can be - being “professional” towards a task, a job that one’s not entirely convinced about? Can a critic feel how some of us treat frequent flyer miles and the free upgrades to be only quantifiable incentive for a lack of a personal life? Can a critic ever feel how disconcerting it can be when the guy at the reception in a hotel looks at you and says "Welcome home!"?

Roger Ebert has argued that video games can never be art. It's supposedly a five year old debate, which makes me wonder where I was and what I was doing five years back. Needless to say, his piece has infuriated the gaming community (and a lot of other people), who have since flooded his comment-space and their blogs. I doubt it's because they seek validation, it's only because no one wants to be dismissed.

Which is the thing with gamers, or at least the thing with my friends who play games. They've never tried to educate me or dismiss my interest in anything else. All they ever wanted to do is try to get me to share, and I quote, the "awesomeness" they feel when they play, despite the restrictions of rules, points, objectives and achievements.

The passion and fascination with which they speak leaves me envious. They want me to be a part of the world that changes at every iteration; it turns out different for each player. Which is what art does, isn't it? It's almost always been a subjective assessment, a personal experience. Be it a movie or a poem or a painting, it touches each person differently, so much so that it would perhaps be safe to assume that there is no single way of evaluation. There can be pointers and pathways, but there can’t possibly be absolute rights or wrongs.

Given that awareness, to say something is "not" art is quite strange. It doesn't appeal to me, to others, maybe it does – so good for them. Who's anyone to decide what appeals to someone?

But then again, Critics have always perched themselves on a pedestal, and peddled their opinions as judgment, almost like it is their need to decide for us what is good or bad, what is art and what is not.

Art, like religion, has fallen prey to its keepers.


manuscrypts said...

Great post. In fact, i'll go one step further, and say that its not just critics, its regular people too, who take it upon themselves to judge... across genres ("you still listen to Boyzone" taunts on twitter)..
the bard's words about a jest's prosperity should be adapted for art too... a common accepted label of 'art' seems like a paradox for what is really a very subjective experience..

sunshin3girl said...

What a joy of a post! I could not agree more with you (and manuscrypts). When I first learned the word "art," it was defined as immanent expression. But as we read/watch/play/hear more and more, we start to fancy ourselves as the masters. Some even make it their profession to judge other people's books without ever having written one. Although, this is also a debatable statement.

Nevertheless, art should be about "whatever works" for one, and not about "whatever is posh."

tagskie said...

Nice blog you got here... Just droppin' by to say hi!

Mo said...

@Manuscrypts - Agreed. But normally opinions can be taken as opinions. My grouse with critics is that they are "qualified" to comment, and hence they tend to pass a judgment.

@sunshin3girl -Took me very long to make my peace with the "whatever works for me", instead of conforming with whatever everyone else said.

@tagskie - thanks, visit more often?