Making & Appreciating Art


On Making & Appreciating Art


This is how art speaks to us; this is the challenge that reverberates through the exhibition halls. It changed my life. People say this kind of thing all the time. Magazines publish surveys in which celebrities are asked to name the book, film, or song that changed their lives. Frequently the choices seem uninspired, or have less to do with the intrinsic qualities of the book or film or song in question than with the circumstances of their discovery. But the nature and the mechanism of the transformation—how did your life change? What was the difference between before and after?—rarely receive much analysis. It could be just a figure of speech, but it is also a hyperbolic way of acknowledging the momentarily disruptive impact of art on the equilibrium of everyday consciousness. To say that something changed your life is also to say that it exceeded your available categories of experience. You are in a zone beyond the charm of the beautiful or even the terror of the sublime, in a territory that cannot be marked by the usual signs of I liked it or Hey, that was nice. —A.O. Scott, Better Living Through Criticism


What I really think good writing does: It enlivens that part of us that actually believes we are in this world, right now, and that being here somehow matters. It reawakens the reader to the fact and the value of her own existence. —George Saunders


The first step […] to controlling your world is to control your culture. To model and demonstrate the kind of world you demand to live in. To write the books. Make the music. Shoot the films. Paint the art. Chuck Palahniuk


Part of the critic’s job is to offer consumer advice. You want to know if a given performance or exhibit is worth your time. But criticism doesn’t stop with warnings and recommendations. […] Whether or not we like the thing we’re reviewing, we are interested in what it means, how it works (or doesn’t), why it matters (or doesn’t), and how it reflects and is part of the larger world. […]
Critics don’t wield the authority of experts so much as the credibility of devotees. One thing we share in common is love for the art forms we write about. —A.O. Scott [#]


Anything can be judged, analyzed, investigated, made into a vessel of feeling, meaning, narrative, moral significance, beauty, and so on. But the question is whether the thing in question can bear the scrutiny, which is really to say whether the act of scrutinizing it can be made interesting. A.O. Scott, Better Living Through Criticism


No, this, she felt, was real life and if she wasn’t as curious or passionate as she had once been, that was only to be expected. It would be inappropriate, undignified, at thirty-eight, to conduct friendships or love affairs with the ardour and intensity of a twenty-two-year-old. Falling in love like that? Writing poetry, crying at pop songs? Dragging people into photo-booths, taking a whole day to make a compilation tape, asking people if they wanted to share your bed, just for company? If you quoted Bob Dylan or T.S. Eliot or, God forbid, Brecht at someone these days they would smile politely and step quietly backwards, and who would blame them? Ridiculous, at thirty-eight, to expect a song or book or film to change your life. No, everything had evened out and settled down and life was lived against a general background hum of comfort, satisfaction and familiarity. There would be no more of these nerve-jangling highs and lows. The friends they had now would be the friends they had in five, ten, twenty years’ time. They expected to get neither dramatically richer or poorer; they expected to stay healthy for a little while yet. Caught in the middle; middle class, middle-aged; happy in that they were not overly happy. —David Nicholls, One Day


Let me lay it on the line: I like movies, and approach them with a tolerance so fond that it will possibly strike you as simple-minded. To engage my glazed attention a movie need be no classic of its kind, need be neither L’Avventura or Red River, neither Casablanca nor Citizen Kane; I ask only that it have its moments. —Joan Didion


But there is no requirement, or even possibility, of choosing between the authoritative or the populist critic: what I have been arguing is that the tension between them is intrinsic to criticism itself. […]
It’s more exciting to spark a backlash than to swim with the ride of easy approval, and it feels much nobler to be the lone champion of something that has been reviled or ignored than to be another voice in the chorus.
But in the long run, that is all anyone is. Time blunts the edges of argument and banks the fires of opposition. What survives, if we’re lucky, is beauty and truth. A.O. Scott, Better Living Through Criticism


You can find any number of definitions of culture but, to my mind, it’s something like the public exchange of feelings, ideas and arguments about how we experience and try to understand our world. This matters profoundly. Culture is the sound of society talking to itself; becoming itself. It is essentially conversational and endlessly mutating. It is how we ascribe meaning to our relationships and communities. It is a large part of what societies, if they are lucky, leave behind them when they end. Ben Walters, Critical Writing: A 60-Minute Masterclass