On Art Criticism

Ann Hornaday nails it:

“The job of a critic isn’t to evaluate a movie on the basis of its imaginary audience, but to try to discern what kind of story filmmakers are trying to tell, ascertaining whether they succeeded and judge whether the enterprise has merit — in terms of ambition, originality, aesthetic sophistication, technical achievement, implicit values and intellectual depth.”

That’s probably the best summary I’ve ever seen of what good art criticism is.

About all I’d want to add (and I’ve probably talked about this elsewhere) is that a critic’s job isn’t to evaluate the art they wish the artist had made, or the art they imagine they might have made themselves if they were in the artist’s shoes.  Hornaday’s quote implies this (“…try to discern what kind of story filmmakers are trying to tell…”).

Good criticism starts from a place of humility, or listening, or even submission.

I can quickly decide, in most cases, if a work is to my taste or not.  I’m much slower to decide if something has artistic merit.  Plenty of works are full of merit but not to my taste (and experiencing these can be valuable to me, if I prepare for them), and I enjoy plenty of others that play to my taste but aren’t loaded with aesthetic value.  These often serve as much or more as entertainment, distraction, or in other functions for me than as capital-A Art.  We all do this, and it’s fine.

(Sidebar; WaPo style guide doesn’t include the Oxford comma?!??  Bummer!)

The world would benefit from more criticism like Hornaday’s.


I’m recording h&s vocals this weekend, and had the thought that tracking vocal takes is a lot like what I imagine running a luge track would be like.

Hear me out.

  • Each song/track is different
  • As you take repeated runs at a song/track, you learn its straights and curves, and can start to anticipate things and fine-tune your performance
  • Your voice/luge is a powerful instrument…
  • … and one you must respect at all times.  One wrong move, and you’ve wrecked
  • The harder you push, the more the preceding point is true.  Flying around corners might get you a personal best, or you might end up in the trees

I’ve done a song every day for the past three, and should be able to do keep pace over the next three as well.  That would leave just one for next week or weekend.

Scott will be back in late July to finish backing vox, and that will almost wrap tracking.  We’ll probably get together later in the summer/fall for some percussion stuff and other extras.

I can feel being ready to be done tracking coming on.  Recording vocals for a song is a two-hour episode of intense focus, with a voice that’s mostly-but-not-entirely cooperative and no guarantee that I’ll love the results.  Psyching myself up to go there, and then to edit the thing, doesn’t come for nothing.