Jury Coordination and Notes

What is the Point of Artistic Criticism by Willie Jones

filmcritics.jpgThe actors of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice responded to the overwhelmingly bad reviews of the film by saying that the film is for the audience. Essentially, they were saying that the critics’ opinions don’t matter and that films are made for the enjoyment of the audience. But are they?

A common argument in the artistic community is whether or not artists do what they do for fans or for critics. Many actors will say the fans, but I beg to differ. Fans are important, don’t get me wrong. Their support keeps the art alive and atmospheric and they motivate us. By the same token, they aren’t the ones who etch an artist’s work into history among other works of art. Sure there’s the rare cult classic like Scarface (1983) or The Rocky Horror Picture Show that makes reviewers and critics take a second glance at something, but they are a rarity.

It is now a popular thing for fans to not care about the opinions of critics. If a film or play gets a bad review, it usually won’t stop box office revenue, though fans often tend to agree with the critics. Whereas years ago, critic’s opinions meant much more. Art was validated by the positive reviews of major critics. None of this is to dissuade you from experiencing a piece of art because it gets bad reviews, but I want to bring up the point that perhaps a critic’s opinion weighs more than a casual fan’s.

Why is that? Well, consider this. If you are a painter and you’ve just painted something and put it on the street, would a negative review from an expert mean less than a positive review from a casual fan. See, while artists would like for fans to appreciate their art, there are certain aspects of art that only experts and connoisseurs are truly going to appreciate because of their knowledge. No one has greater respect for artists and their work than those who know what it’s like to create or have the intellect and learning to break apart their craft and evaluate what was attempted.

So, while that cliché action movie may seem great to you, critics hate it because of reasons that, frankly, no normal person cares about. What critics look at, and allow me to use film as an example here, are those categories at the Oscars the casual film buff doesn’t care about. Things such as production design or sound mixing or art direction. Those are things most people don’t care about, but they are things that play great importance in the success of a film. The same thing applies to a play or painting or a piece of music. Experts in those fields, whether they are critics who studied it or artists themselves, see and appreciate things that only they and the creator themselves can appreciate.

So, while casual fans provide the money and fame and other such things, it is connoisseurs of the respective craft whose opinions an artist truly cares about. It is a critic that translates an artist’s work. It is a critic that looks deeper into something and finds the meaning and motivation behind it that cannot be found on pure aesthetic. For example, there’s a scene in Taxi Driver when Travis looks into a cup and it bubbles. To a fan, that scene doesn’t mean much and they may even question it, but to those who’ve studied cinema, they recognize that that shot is an homage to shots used in earlier films for the same reason Scorsese used it. While a fan may fawn over the look of the film and the action and even the acting, it is a savant that fawns over things that an artist wishes his fans could see. Willie1.jpg

There is a scene in Bridge of Spies when Mark Rylance wipes off his palette that seems simple and easy and unsubstantial. But, when I spoke to an actor of over twenty years, he said that was perhaps his favorite moment of the movie. He said the way Rylance pays attention to such detail as he did it, and how motivated he was in wiping the palette was beautiful. That is the difference between the appreciation of art from a fan and from a pundit.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that fans are stupid or unworthy or anything of that sort, I am saying that experts of a certain field have opinions, more often than not, that contain more validity because they are formed with the same knowledge and understanding as that of the creator himself. That is often why artists call themselves misunderstood or are called misunderstood by authorities of their craft. They are misunderstood by the majority, which are fans, yet they’re etched in legendary status by the minority, the mavens.

In conclusion, I believe that the whole point of artistic criticism is to give the artist the understanding they need from the people they need it from. They need fans to enjoy their work, but they need aficionados to relate to and appreciate their process shown through their work.

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