I could have equally titled this post “Critical Disdain”. Why are critics so vitriolic about the art they critique? It’s not compulsory to have that art in their lives. They could equally well ignore it, not view it or refuse to listen to it. Are they trying to save the rest of the planet from what they consider to be poor taste? What’s the angst and gnashing of teeth all about?
I grant that the most vicious critics have a witty subtlety about their attacks on artists, whose only crime was to present their work for judgement by people with very opinionated views about aesthetics. That opinionated aesthetic sense is often an affectation anyway, as put on as any mask. I just don’t understand why the critics feel the need to be so obviously destructive and denigrating of the artists’ efforts. After all, any fool can knock down something that has taken a lot of care and time to build. There is very little skill in demolition.
Some music critics regard the skilful application of all the tools available in the modern recording studio as cheating. Why? It makes no sense to criticise highly skilled people for using their available technology to the fullest extent to realise their artistic vision. I suppose that folk musicians of old probably criticised those playing the pianoforte as cheating too. Why do the critics care so much about imposing their particular taste and judgement on the rest of us? Why are they so prepared to create the rules of what constitutes good art and then expect the rest of us to buy into their framework? Is this the ultimate in control freakery?
I think in an earlier time it was the case that successful artists could earn quite outrageous sums of money, particularly rock musicians. Perhaps the critics’ bile and ire was stimulated by a sense of injustice and outrage that such pretenders were going to be paid indecent, obscene amounts of money. Maybe their intention was to democratise and level the playing field, so that moneyed artists with access to the best studio technology weren’t the only ones that could become insanely rich. It could be that they were acting as the consumer’s guardian, alerting them to the blatant rip-off represented by the artists’ sub-par art. Or perhaps it was pure jealousy.
In any case, the problem has largely been solved, all by itself. These days, there is so much choice, available through so many channels, that the voice of the critic carries much less weight than ever before. With musicians and artists no longer capable of earning what their earlier brethren once did, the outrage at the fortunes earned by mediocre artists has a somewhat blunted edge. Of course, now that everybody can post their opinion, often anonymously, there are more internet trolls prepared to be gratuitously offensive about an artist’s work just for the thrill of it. Believe it or not some people get their kicks from being such assholes. They learned their craft from an earlier generation of art and music critics.
If you are an artist, my advice is to dismiss most criticism as irrelevant. Some of it might contain the occasional gem or nugget of unvarnished truth that can lead an artist to improve in areas they had previously overlooked, but the bulk of the criticism levelled at any artist is worthless. It expresses nothing more significant than personal preference, amplified by a publishing medium. It’s no different to marching down the street with a megaphone announcing, “I hate broccoli”. So what? Does it mean everybody else has to boycott broccoli too? Hardly.
In the end, critics are as tune-outable, ignorable and their opinions as optional and turn-offable as any art, presented for their judgement. If their art is their criticism, we don’t have to support it either. Fair’s fair.