On the Art of Criticism

Websnark had a post discussing critical review of critics on August 28, 2008. I haven’t had time to collect my thoughts on it until now. Eric Burns-White’s well written post discusses whether or not a review can be critiqued. The short answer is: of course. What I found most interesting is the description of different kinds of criticism. He describes them pretty completely, but I’ll shorthand it here.

  • Scholarly critics examine meaning and technique. The focus is not on what the creator meant to do or wanted to accomplish. The work is interpreted through the audience’s perception and within the larger contexts of culture or philosophies.
  • The second type of critic is the Reviewer. Reviewers are supposed to tell you if the work is good or bad, in their opinion. And why.
  • The last is the Destructive critic. This critic only talks about what is wrong or bad about the work.

I hadn’t run across a breakdown like this before. It’s a very practical thing to consider. What kind of reviewing am I providing my readers with? Are my reviews lacking something?

I’ve been working mostly according to the scholarly tradition (without the interpretation.) I am keenly interested in what the comic’s creator was trying to accomplish, why they might want that and how they did it. I also hope to discover what effect these things have on the reader and make that information of practical use. For my purposes, I might list something to definitely avoid doing but there is no need to dwell on a comic’s faults.

Up to this point, I haven’t felt like it’s up to me to tell a reader if they should or shouldn’t like the comic. Readers are smart – smart enough to glance at the sample image and read a bit of the review and then decide for themselves if they like the comic. Truthfully, I really haven’t liked many of the comics that I’ve reviewed. Most were just not my cup of tea. With a few exceptions, I haven’t see that as being the artist’s (or comic’s) fault, therefore I haven’t seen that as pertinent information to mention in a review. I’ve also been hesitant (due to being an artist) of giving too much opinion and looking like I’m trying to compete with other artists.

What I’ve been doing on ArtPatient is more analysis than review. I’m getting the sense that my ‘reviewing’ opinion is also desired. Now that I understand what the expectation is, it appears that an adjustment is in order. It looks like I need to feature my opinion very prominently in my Comic Fencing reviews and I should probably add some opinion to the What Did I Learn reviews at ArtPatient.

There is bound to be a learning curve for me as I make this part of my process. Feel free to comment on my progress and thanks for reading.

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