I have reappraised Disco music recently. Mainly because my daughter enjoys it, but also because it is enjoying a resurgence in popularity. When Disco first came out, I hated it. I hated it in that way only a teenager with a passion for music can hate - with utter assurance of the correctness of his hate, his disdain, his artistic vision. Anyway, now I enjoy it, and I enjoy it for what it is - fun dance music. It does a great job of conveying a certain mood. What more can be said?

That has led me to a further consideration of criticism in general. Most criticism is artistic. Music, movies, plays, writing, artwork, artistic endevors all are the usual subject of critics and criticism. But how absurd! Is one person's reaction to art any more valid than someone elses? No, if I have learned anything since my earlier, utterlly assured days, no. There is nothing objective about the criticism of art. The worst a critic can say is that the artwork did nothing, provoked no response in herself. But that doesn't mean that the same artwork won't elicit a profound response in someone else.

Criticism really falls into two categories - engineering analysis and art itself. When the critic tells you that the trumpet player blew a flat note at an important moment - that's engineering analysis. When the critic describes the effect of the music on herself - that's art. Of course, most reviews mix both. Still, engineering analysis of art is difficult because it requires an assessment of how well the artifact met its creator's goals, which assumes you understand her goals in the first place, and it requires an assessment of how much the intended goals matter to everyone who encounters it. Consequently, the engineering analysis that is undertaken is usually of the most superficial nature and it serves the purose of demonstrating to the critic's audience that she knows what she's talking about.

But does the critic need to be accomplished, let alone competent in the field they are criticising? For engineering analysis, this is of course important, but for art, who cares? We all have a soul, don't we? Does Roger Ebert have to a master film maker to be a great critic? Or is it more important to have a love and appreciation for the subject? Art and Science are both concerned with experience -- science with the repeatable, and art with the extraordinary. A good critic must be able to have an extraordinary experience and bring it back alive for the rest of us.

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This page last updated 24 March 2000.
Contents copyright Kevin Murphy 2000. All rights reserved.