Book Review: ARTicles

A Critique on Critics

Somewhere lodged between the business and the style section is a few pages reserved for arts criticism. These reviews act as a short glimpse into the critic’s taste and unique personality, but what if we were to dig deeper?

Critic gives the reader a more dilated view of the lives of a variety of critics; some prove to be dull and analytical while others flare with the natural wit and comedy a storyteller is supposed to have. The piece serves as more of an instructional manual for aspiring critics rather than a series of entertaining (yet informative) short stories from the lives of critics. The book is a compilation of essays written by virtually every type of art critic; some essays include humorous anecdotes of being pied in the face for a bad review, the deep shame that comes with having lowbrow taste for liking Duran Duran, and how pop culture is so “tightly woven into the fabric of our existence” we feel the consuming want to wave at Julia Stiles when we see her on the street. Other less exciting essays were on topics such as the lack of architecture criticism in the field and a pop critic’s snarky response to hate mail.

One of the best pieces in is by Eric Fredericksen, the former managing editor for Arts on Paper. His essay, entitled ‘Junket Whore,” takes the reader on a movie junket extravaganza. Fredericksen describes his luxurious, four-star, weekend getaways paid for by film studios in exchange for an overzealous positive review of whatever C-rate film he was forced to sit through for an hour and a half. Most of us will never live this exorbitant reality, but most of them may never gain the courage to be honest and breakaway from the fabulous (yet dishonest and unethical) life of bondage to write what they truly want. Fredericksen confesses: “any pimp will tell you, it’s hard for a whore to leave the game.”

Such essays were superior because of their realness and humorous anecdotes.
They choose to not take the self-righteous path and claim that their place as a critic is superior to their audience. It was invigorating to see the authors share genuine personal stories and revelations they’ve learned through serving as a critic.

On the opposite end of the entertainment spectrum, was Wendy Lesser’s philosophical “Which Side are We On? Reflections on a Critic’s Position,” Holly Bass’ bemoaning “Command (of) Performance,” and Adam Langer’s piece “Déjà vu Plus Two…” were less than enchanting.

In Langer’s essay, we are able to see his painstakingly intricate experiment of sitting through a play not just once, but four times, to answer the question if multiple viewings change a critic’s perspective of a play. For each of these viewings Langer notes a number of insignificant details such as the outfit he wore at the time and meal prior to the show. The fundamental concept is interesting to explore, but going through the actual process with him ended up being tedious rather than enlightening. Spoiler warning: he ends up concurring with his initial impression. It’s dubious that the reader would’ve gotten that far, anyway.

It was refreshing to see the critics’ departure from reviewing music, films, architecture, and theater and look inward to critique the art of their profession. Critic gives the reader an opportunity to observe the emotions and inner workings of n critic. Exhilarating bursts of humor and authenticity bring energy to the book but are not enough to save the book from falling into a readers worst nightmare of formulaic analysis and destitution in the personality department.

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