“Positive” vs “negative” criticism is a very limiting frame for it. I like ambiguous criticism a lot, for instance, I like coming away from a piece with a better idea of how I might feel about something, but I don’t ultimately care.
Re. the essays about criticism doing the rounds.
“Positive” vs “negative” criticism is a very limiting frame for it. I like ambiguous criticism a lot, for instance, I like coming away from a piece with a better idea of how I might feel about something, but I don’t ultimately care how the writer ended up feeling about it.
Maybe the value of criticism - beyond entertainment, nice sentences, etc. - is in transferable information about an experience, and something as flat and final as “an opinion” might be a useful part of that, or it might not.
That Eggers piece is one of the worst things I’ve ever read, and as such had a huge influence on me. It’s true, though, that I find it more useful to read someone eloquently explain why a thing might be good than why it might not be. But it depends on the thing. At heart I’m a contrarian. I start hearing a little voice going “come on, what’s the real story?”. If something is praised everywhere I want to read the doubters. If something is casually damned I want to hear from the fans. Honest doubters and honest fans, not some #slatepitches linkbait - though sometimes you can’t tell the difference.
A property of the social web is that these options and alternatives emerge from it with less self-consciousness than they might in the professional sector. I like that.
I like criticism as a vehicle for ideas about things - this isn’t the same as centering criticism on the writer but it’s not centering it on the artist either: I respect critics who specialise in piecing together artistic development, but it’s not my thing as a reader. The idea doesn’t have to be central to the piece - it could be half a phrase somewhere that turns out to be a hidden door.
I don’t expect critics to explain everything.
Anyway that’s some thoughts I had reading those essays and the responses to them.
Well said. I rarely think about why I find a book or painting or album or film good as much as what intrigues me about it. The criticism I like most starts a conversation, rather than leaving me with a sense of whether something is worth the $15.
Yes! Though a bit tangential, this is what Susan Sontag seems to mean in “Against Interpretation” when she says that we need an “erotics of art”: good criticism says “how do we love a piece of art? how does it create its distinctive magic?” My favourite criticism builds on this idea and highlights how the work tries to enchant, even if it isn’t successful.