“Technology killed criticism,” says Morgan Meis in On the State of Criticism 2011. Everyone’s a critic now, writing reviews on Amazon and blogs, and ranting or raving on Twitter. Netflix, Pandora and Amazon make personalized recommendations based on algorithms, decreasing our reliance on professional critics.
Meis sees this loss of authority for critics as an opportunity for them to share their experience and love of art, rather than merely judge it.
“The death of the critic-as-authority is the birth of another kind of criticism . . . the kind that doesn’t rely on authority and judgment, Romantic criticism.”
Romantic criticism “does not stand outside the work of art, but stands alongside, maybe even inside, the work of art, participating in the work in order to further express and tease out what the artist already put there.” The critic’s role is to help us experience art. Meis calls this generous criticism. “It wants to make experience bigger, it wants to make each work of art as rich as it can possibly be.”
Imagine the critic’s relief. Instead of reading a book or viewing an artwork and knowing your opinion is one that could make or break its success in the marketplace, you’re now free to share your experience, put the work in context and enlighten your readers.
Meis’ romantic generous critic reminded me of Arthur Danto, longtime art critic for The Nation and philosophy professor at Columbia University. When I was a volunteer at the National Gallery one of our educators suggested I read Encounters and Reflections: Art in the Historical Present; later I read Beyond the Brillo Box: The Visual Arts in Post-Historical Perspective – books I foolishly purged when I moved across country.
Danto’s writing and NGA lectures were enthralling and thought-provoking. He showed me new ways to see, think about and experience art. While drafting this post I wondered if I remembered him correctly, but was reassured after reading this from Denis Dutton, founder of Arts & Letters Daily — a site I can lose hours in:
“That Danto is a critic who knows art and its history, and that he is a skilled philosopher go almost without saying, but this alone cannot account for the attractiveness of these essays. There is an element here which, curious to remark, many contemporary critics either lack or won’t betray: Danto adores art. This means that when he likes something, he can carry his reader away with the enthusiasm, as he does with Warhol or with something so simple as a Raphael drawing of a head and hand. Moreover, his tastes are broad, and celebrate as much the present instant in art as its historical past.”
Danto is a romantic and generous critic. What about bloggers? Are we romantic and generous bloggers? Do we pass judgment on our subjects or do we share our experience and love of them, and try to make them richer? The latter doesn’t mean we’re Polyannas oozing positivity; we mete out tough love too.
Many of us in the association blogosphere might be accused of being too critical or judgmental about associations. Yes, we criticize, but it’s to try to push the conversation further, to make associations a richer experience. We’re thinking out loud together. We wouldn’t blog about associations, leadership and community if we weren’t fascinated by those subjects. As a writer I may be on the outside, no longer working in an association, but I still consider myself part of the community because, well, I love it.
I can only dream of being a thinker and writer like Danto, a wannabe art historian’s dream. But I can continue to share my love and knowledge with others. I admit, I’d love to spark “hmm, fascinating” in a reader’s brain every now and then. But I’m not here to be an authority or pass judgment. I’m here for the love of it all — conversation, wild ideas, community, expression, writing. I’m sharing my experience, love and passions in my own way.
Adam Kirsch, senior editor at The New Republic, defines a critic as “one who says something true about life and the world. The critic’s will is not to power, but to self-understanding, self-expression, truth.” A critic’s writing shows “a mind working out its own questions.” That sounds like many bloggers I know and the blogger I aspire to be.