Saturday, December 22, 2012

A Criticism of Critics

I enjoyed reading this:

There's A Meanness Abroad in the Land
[...] In many of the reviews I read daily, on a whole range of subjects besides filmmaking, I am so struck with the underlying view the critics seem to have about intelligence. Review after review bespeaks the idea of "look how intelligent I am, I can see – more than most – everything that's wrong with this." (Whatever the this may be.) I was raised with a very different view of intelligence: it valued "look how intelligent I am, I can see – more than most – all the things there are to appreciate, about this."

In our day, and perhaps in other days as well, it is a far rarer soul who makes appreciation the defining motif of his or her life, than those who make criticism their defining goal. Criticism is easy; it takes no brains to say what's wrong with something. Appreciation however, is difficult; you sometimes have to fight to see things to appreciate, digging for example beneath ugly surface impressions, to see some shining beauty underneath. That's why prejudice flourishes. It takes brains to see what there is to appreciate in every man and woman who was ever born. Which should be the goal of every intelligent man or woman. Civilization never decays or vanishes because of a lack of criticism in a society; it decays or vanishes because of a lack of appreciation in that society. As a direct consequence of this, that society tends to preserve the commonplace, while it casually throws away treasures. And criticism causes more meanness to be abroad, in the land.

Every critic begins with assumptions, usually unexamined, that they use to justify their hammering the thing they are examining. [...]
The other day at dinner, were were talking about people we know (or have known) who are habitually critical and fault finding, and how unhappy they are as a result. This reminded me of that. I know that criticism has it's place, but you sure need to balance it, if you want to be happy.

The writer here was talking about a negative review he read of the movie "The Hurt Locker". I love what he said about that. He also ended it with a quote from the composer Jean Sibelius, which made me chuckle.

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