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Context : OnArt, MusicalStuff, OnAesthetics

Quora Answer : How problematic can it be as a critic when you rate someone's music based on personal or negative feelings you have towards them?

Nov 24

I think you have to accept two, perhaps contradictory, things :

that art is impossible to separate from the artist.

MUCH of what we value in art comes from its connection to the artist and what we value about them as a kind of "icon" or "role-model" etc.

This is why I think AI is never going to take over making music. However clever it is, we'll always want to identify with a "person" as a front for the music.

In fact, we've already seen this : people relate to and idolize a DJ who just plays tracks on a computer, composed by other people who outsourced most of the hard actual "playing" of the music to their computer.

But we still want a human to relate to, and so the DJ is now the human face of that highly mechanized supply-chain. And we turn the DJ into the star.

Art loses much of what it means to us if we try to disconnect it entirely from the human behind it.

Even when we admire ancient works by unknown people, we speculate about them, or even create a kind of "unknown artist" persona as a place-holder for our interest in them.

at the same time, humans are flawed, and the artist can't fully determine the art

All "great people" have feet of clay. Humans are imperfect. We can't expect our heroes to be saints. And if we do try to demand that heroes are saints, we won't get heroes who are saints, we'll just end up with no heroes at all.

However much you love an artist, chances are he or she has said or done things you don't approve of, and are perhaps horrified by.

We can't let art be hostage to our moral evaluation of the choices of artists, because we'll end up with very little art. And we'll lose much art which is really good.

So we must evaluate and appreciate and interpret art independently of what we think of the artist.

So it's a paradox.

On the one hand I believe that the artist is an essential component of the value of art. Even if we don't want to put someone on a pedestal, we want to think "there is a someone who had the artistic vision and drive to make this". Because if we can believe that, then we can, by mimesis, aspire to have such visions and drives in our own lives. And part of what the artist does is "perform" being someone who affects the world through their creativity and aesthetic taste and therefore acts as a pathfinder and role-model for the rest of us.

At the same time, we can't reduce art to simply the egoistical expression of the artist. Its use and meaning comes from how we incorporate the works into our own lives. What does this music do for us? Is it great to make us cheer us up when we are sad? Or to pump us up at the gym. Or to remind us of a first-love. Etc.

We all operate within this paradoxical space. But critics, if we're talking about professional thinkers / writers on art, need to be able to explicitly operate within this space. To explicitly be able to think and talk about both the artist behind the work, what that artists means to them and to a wider audience. While also being able to diagnose and map the usages made of the art, the meanings it has, beyond the artist's biography.

This is hard. But it shouldn't be that hard.

In a sense, a critic is already juggling paradoxes. The critic must simultaneously give "objective" evaluations of a work, while also acknowledging that art is all about "subjective" evaluation. Forget the problem of what the critic thinks of the artist. What about if the critic merely doesn't like this actual piece of music?

All critics must handle this problem. That they must be fair and do justice to music while also respecting their own taste.

And while extending that paradox-handling to the artist is an extra step, it's using the same skills / habits of mind.

See also :

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