Saturday, September 03, 2005

The Problems of Criticism


(Seppo Heikinheimo, the feared Finnish classical music critic who eventually committed suicide)

Lately I've faced some problems one has when giving and receiving criticism. There are both constructive criticism and unconstructive criticism. Unconstructive criticism is a confused mix of one's personal and subjective prejudices, biases, ignorance, frustrations and even aggressions; hardly ever giving valid arguments except those based on qualities mentioned above, and inclined to create crass generalisations and of fallacious logic. And, if possible, managing to even contradict oneself as often as possible.

Constructive criticism would require as its premises understanding at least a bit of the backgrounds and history, current scene and context. I'm not a fan of any of those current metal scenes myself, for example, but I restrain to make any comment of them, because being an outsider to that scene I have no means to understand or assess the meaning or even importance to someone, an insider, who has grown into it and derives a lot of personal sense of purpose from it.

I think a constructive critic should be able to weigh both the pros and cons of the work that are under his/her assessment and be able to place it to its appropriate genre(s) when considering the execution of its form (is it meant to polished or non-polished, e.g. progrock vs. lo-fi indie; work of an art school gradute vs. outsider art, professional vs. amateur, etc.)

And how should you assess a work of someone coming from your own peer group? Are there any other choices than to join in the mutual back-patting society? Or alternately, if you don't happen to like this person, kick the shit out of his/her work? Being impartial and objective is very hard.