Saturday, February 23, 2013

Whether it's Dr. Seuss' anti-fascist cartoons, or '60s rock journalism, the most lively sources from the past are from the critics.

The critic's artistic medium takes form in written opinion. Given Oscar Wilde's platonic dialogue in The Critic As Artist, I thoroughly enjoyed the theory of a critic using another artist's work as raw materials in creating a new art; however, I disagree with Wilde when he claimed "It is very much more difficult to talk about a thing than to do it."

Bob Dylan expressed his feelings and thoughts on criticism in a recent Rolling Stone interview,
"I try to get past all that. I have to. When you ask me if I find criticism of my work irrelevant or silly, no, not if it's constructive. If someone could point out here or there where my work could be improved upon, I guess I'd be willing to listen. The people who are obsessed with criticism – it's not honest criticism. They are not the people who I play to anyway."
And then he continued,
"Everything people say about you or me, they are saying about themselves. They're telling about themselves. Ever notice that?"
As a history major I immerse myself within primary texts, and regardless of the time period, I enjoy reading the journalistic articles the most.

I like feeling the bite of words.

So with my breadth of popular press from an expanse of history, here's how I see it: there's an ongoing negotiation between the consumers (readers) and the producers (writers). Let's take the aforementioned Rolling Stone magazine as it emerged out of the haze that was the San Francisco countercultural movement in 1967. These writers held their fingers on the pulse of underground rock 'n' roll. Perhaps best illustrated in a scathing review a Cream concert, Rolling Stone critic Jon Landau dubbed the guitar virtuoso Eric Clapton as "a master of blues cliche." After reading the article, Clapton realized it was the end of this power trio.

Thus the critic must be a trust worthy source for opinion and coverage. If not (according to Gramsci's notion of "compromise equilibrium") the consumers reject a producer's work.

As an aspiring musician and journalist I will embrace criticism because I want to improve. I'll set aside my ego, and I'll take risks because this is the time to grow. Echoing Bob Dylan, I will take careful note of constructive criticism, but I'll be skeptical of peers projecting their anxieties. Playing guitar on a stage can be simultaneously the most liberating and most nerve-wracking experience. Try it sometime. Do at a cabaret, open-mic night. There's nothing to lose.

From my perspective in writing original music and writing criticism, creating art in the moment is much more difficult than to talk about it.

Sure, music critics might end an musician's career with a particular band or coin terms like "sheets of sound" in jazz. They may make an artist's work last longer, seen by Gilbert's example of da Vinci's work in The Critic As Artist. Readers, scholars, and fellow history nerds can look back and say "for these reasons, this is why the Velvet Underground was great."

We covered in class that art is communication. I'll take it further: it is expression when words fail. Can words really capture the sheets of sounds in John Coltrane's solos, or express how a teenager suddenly wants to learn how to play guitar after watching Jimmy Page on TV?

Maybe I, as a critic, am merely projecting. In fact, I'm certain I am. But let's see you shred the guitar, critic. I'll be listening.

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