On Criticism (Thinking in Action)
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In a recent poll of practicing art critics, 75 percent reported that rendering judgments on artworks was the least significant aspect of their job. This is a troubling statistic for philosopher and critic Noel Carroll, who argues that that the proper task of the critic is not simply to describe, or to uncover hidden meanings or agendas, but instead to determine what is of value in art.
Carroll argues for a humanistic conception of criticism which focuses on what the artist has achieved by creating or performing the work. Whilst a good critic should not neglect to contextualize and offer interpretations of a work of art, he argues that too much recent criticism has ignored the fundamental role of the artist's intentions.
Including examples from visual, performance and literary arts, and the work of contemporary critics, Carroll provides a charming, erudite and persuasive argument that evaluation of art is an indispensable part of the conversation of life.
aﬀairs—as, for example, building materials or paperweights—we can evaluate them relative to the uses to which people put them. A three hundred pound paperweight, for instance, is a bad one for anyone save Superman. Once rocks become embroiled with people, that is, they are suitable objects of criticism. For people have purposes and, in virtue of those purposes, we can assess whether the rock enhances or impedes them and say why. (A three hundred pound rock is a bad paperweight because it is too
ﬂabbergast them emotionally. Moreover, the function of the description of the work in the overall act of criticism is to ground the other operations of criticism, especially evaluation. Clearly, not every aspect of the work and its context, scrutinized from every conceivable vantage point, will be relevant to these other operations. That which needs to be described about the work are those features of the work that are important to draw to the audience’s attention for the purposes of
criticism cannot be objective. In response, I try to show that some criticism can be objective and to explain the grounds for objectivity with respect to the relevant critical practices. Much of that defense hinges on establishing the possibility of objective classiﬁcations of artworks—that is, of intersubjectively determining the categories to which artworks belong, such as their membership in artforms, genres, movements, styles, oeuvres, and so forth. For, when we ﬁx the category to which an
which better, and which are worse. Critics are not art world touts; their primary assignment is not to provide the rest of us with tips about which artworks will win, place, or show and in what order. Rather, we expect critics to assist us in seeing what there is of value in the work at hand. Thus, it is not a liability of the plural-category approach that it is not obsessed with comparison, especially evaluative comparisons that reach across categories. In order to pinpoint that which is
created; and we can use those reasons to estimate the degree of success of the work on its own terms. 191 I have been arguing that most critical evaluation is categoryrelative and that it is very often ridiculous to engage in comparison for the sake of grading when it comes to works from disjoint categories. Attempting to rank a hard-boiled detective novel by Raymond Chandler vis-à-vis a Fabergé egg either just taxes sense or is downright silly. However, there do seem to be some cases where