Arts, Column

The Inescapable Nature of Artistic Criticism

As the old adage goes, “haters gonna hate.” But you might expand it to “critics gonna criticize.” It’s time to tackle the chaos that exists regarding popular artistic tastes compared to those of critics. This swirling vortex of confusion is entertaining and maddening, and plagues artists, critics, and consumers alike. Sometimes that which critics condemn, the masses devour. What is one supposed to think about this puzzling web of ambiguity?

Regardless of whether it’s a favorable review, critics draw attention to artistic works with their opinions, exposure that a lot of artists will never get. So at the very least, critical commentary alerts people to the presence of an artwork, from which the artists could benefit. Critics that try to write entertaining reviews, however, sometimes sprinkle in outrageous or degrading comments about artistic works. A fair share of the time, it’s a valid reaction to the work in question.

But there are plenty of infamous reviews out there that have hung artists out to dry, only to have their work become highly esteemed by pretty much everyone else. I wouldn’t be surprised if Led Zeppelin had the last laugh when Rolling Stone’s unfavorable review of its first album was spectacularly disputed by mainstream success. Even with that, if a review sounds absurd enough, people may check out  artwork simply to see what inspired such bombastic commentary. There’s no such thing as bad press, right?

But some critics should consider taking a proverbial “chill pill” when it comes to their evaluations. If you look at a movie as if it was meant for Oscar consideration, when it’s clearly not, of course it’s going to look like a travesty. Condemning a movie as “teen cheese,” for example, may well be understandable to and supported by readers. But this declaration fails to detail the merits of a movie that appeals to a limited audience, or what makes the movie something worthy of distaste. And believe me, I can’t stand much of what receives the label “teen cheese,” as I think it’s shorthand for an overblown, nauseating display of cliché. But I would still expect a critic to do something beyond slapping on a label and booking it. Same goes for pulling lyrics or quotes out of context, and letting them stand in the review on their own, without a chaperone. As if the critic’s opinion is self-evident and readily accepted by readers that may never have even met the artistic work in question. Often, critics come up with supported claims and fair assessments of artistic works. But if they don’t, they’re doing a notable disservice to whoever’s work was unlucky enough to fall into their hands.

Whether it be from your garden-variety hater or a seasoned reviewer, artists have channeled their responses to critics into their work. People like Taylor Swift seem to thrive on those that both personally and professionally criticize her. She’s thrown backlash about her actions into her music, and regardless of whether you’re a Swiftie, there’s no hiding her chart-topping and record-breaking success. Other artists have done the same thing for years, because creating work based on one’s life experience is a pretty commonplace source of material. A substantially different artist, Eminem received constant tabloid attention at the start of his career, and was even the subject of discussion in Congress about whether harsher music censorship was required. The artist used the severe controversy and attention to fuel several years of new music, and continued to attain significant commercial success. Regardless of the drama surrounding the situation, the tendency of artists to address or fan the flames of controversy in their work is pervasive.

Not even the general consumer is safe from the scorn of some artists. When it comes to popular tastes, artists gripe all the time about catering some of their work toward the masses, so that they can support the artistic genius that otherwise would never see the light of day. They resent fickle public opinion, and some dislike when conventional, formulaic work hogs all the attention. At the end of the day, one might simply try to hope that at the very least, people developed their artistic preferences in accordance with what they honestly think.

But some people have fretted about critical reception dictating what popular consumers gravitate toward. Especially in the era of Rotten Tomatoes, some people seek out critical reviews in an effort to only attend movies or find albums that received favorable reviews. This could be seen as a forum that creates consumers who don’t think for themselves. What might be more likely is that in a world with more movies and television and music than anyone knows what to do with, people want to find the “best” ones, and then form their own opinions. Everyone’s a critic in one way or other. The voices that consume art and form opinions aren’t going away anytime soon. Whether the platform be a critical publication or an endless thread on Reddit, the discussion of entertainment is inseparable from its production. What can you do? Critics gonna criticize.

Featured Image By Big Machine Records

September 17, 2017