Thursday, October 14, 2010

Artistic Aspirations

UD has a post up about the rightful place of theory versus aesthetics in art criticism. UD quotes Susan Sontag:
What is needed, first, is more attention to form in art. If excessive stress on content provokes the arrogance of interpretation, more extended and more thorough descriptions of form would silence. What is needed is a vocabulary – a descriptive, rather than prescriptive, vocabulary – for forms. The best criticism, and it is uncommon, is of this sort that dissolves considerations of content into those of form.

It reminded FLG of a discussion that he had a while back with Flavia, and some of the literature professor types over at her blog. FLG doesn't remember the details of that debate as well as he should, but FLG's basic premise was that the academic analysis of literature takes much of the humanity out of it. The sterile world of academic criticism destroys what makes art important -- its meaning and relevance to individuals.

Sontag's approach reminds FLG of something Roger Ebert said. Somebody, when FLG was at the University of Colorado, asked Ebert whether he has different standards for different types of movies. He replied that he basically has one standard by which he judges movies -- what that film aspires to be. If it aspires to be a slapstick comedy, then you judge it by how well it accomplishes that, not whether it's a better movie than Citizen Kane on some sort of universal measurement.

This embodies some of what Sontag was getting at. An important part of Ebert's criteria is understanding the form of movie. It leaves the definition of the form by which the movie will be judged up to the artist. Sure, there is a kind of shared grammar that one must abide by so that the viewer can understand what the movie aspires to be, but even then an artist can break outside the constraints if they make it clear what they are doing.

Anyway, that's how FLG has approached all art ever since. Then again, he's not a professor and has no vested interest in maintaining the relevance of esoteric knowledge acquired during years of specialized study or in teaching students.

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