Saturday, November 20, 2010

A look at the mind of a critic

Critic is seen as a nasty word. Often when I say I am a critic I am asked, “Well, what do you do if you like something?” Critics, by default, don’t hate everything. Nor is it the critic's job to rubber stamp everything as being perfect. A good critic knows things aren’t as black and white as good and bad. There are many grays in analyzing arts and entertainment.

Many people assume critic is derived from the words criticism or critical, which tend to be associated with negativity as in “stop being so critical.” But critical has another connotation. One Merriam Webster definition for critical is: “exercising or involving careful judgment or judicious evaluation.” That sounds like an ideal definition of what a critic does, but the role of a critic goes deeper.

For me, the word critic comes from critique. Merriam Webster defines critique as “an act of criticizing; especially: a critical estimate or discussion.” The keyword in that definition is discussion. By writing a review I am presenting another voice in the greater discussion of whatever art I am writing about. It is merely an opinion. These things are not absolutes. My critiques can be ignored as being off-base and inaccurate, that's fine. There is no right or wrong. My views aren't better than anyone else's, but, in theory, they are backed by years of experience and education, which may make them worth listening to. It doesn't make my opinion any more correct, though.

I write about film, theater and music because I love it. The experience of discovering something new is exhilarating. When I stumble upon something that speaks to me, whether it moves me, makes me laugh, makes me think or all of the above, I want to share it with the world. Conversely, when I encounter a piece of art that disappoints me I want to steer people away from it. One of the roles of a critic is to act as a guide. But I certainly don't go into something looking to tear it apart. I go in hoping for the best, not the worst. All I ever try to do is give my honest opinion because I have an audience and it would be doing my readers a disservice if I was anything less than honest.

I don't know if I can explain my actual writing process or even what I am looking for because so much of that is subjective. Recently, I had a discussion with someone about the actor John Cusack. This person believes he is a terrible actor because “he's not living the role. He's pretending. Acting is not for people who want to pretend to be someone else; it's for people who want to make their role their life and become that person.” I replied, “Not all great acting has to be disappear-into-the-role method acting.” My debater quite rightly informed me that is just an opinion. Point being, even what is considered great acting is up to debate. One person's good, is another person's bad.

What I am looking for changes based upon what I am watching or listening to. When I write a review I am trying to explain my experience — how it made me feel and react and hopefully pinpoint the why behind those feelings and reactions. I write reviews for the same reason artists create: I'm trying to be understood and have people understand how I experience things. It is about connecting with the art, the artist, the audience and the world. It is participating in an ongoing discourse and creating a give and take. Simply put: I am just another voice trying to be heard.

1 comment:

Mary said...

Beautifully written.