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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Beware of the critic

    Susan Bonicillo
    Susan Bonicillo

    Susan’s Musings

    Someone is always coming up with a “”best of”” list. Usually limited to about 10 items but often ranging up to the wildly ambitious 100, the “”best of”” is supposed to represent the pinnacle of what any one genre has to offer.

    From the top picks in movie villains to Seinfeld episodes or ’80s hair bands, someone is always willing to give his or her recommendation of what should and should not be seen.

    Though these serve as a useful guide, they’re nonetheless the result of someone else’s opinion, complete with their own flaws and biases.

    It seems pretty ridiculous in the first place to think that you can ever make a concise graduated scale of artistic achievement, but we do it anyway.

    The “”best of”” lists are just one example. From the fashion shows parading as awards ceremonies that take up far too much airtime to dismal or celebratory reviews, opinions are thrust at us left and right. Far too often though, the opinion is seen as the be-all end-all on the topic.

    Critics and pop culture commentators are invested with a tremendous amount of cultural clout. They can make or break someone’s career because readers believe their words to be fact rather than what they are: someone’s well-publicized opinion.

    Perhaps we can blame Aristotle and his enduring set of aesthetic principles for our systematic judging of art. Obviously, we wish to see what is “”good”” about a work of art. More importantly, we want to be able to have the discerning taste to realize what is “”good,”” whatever that may be. No one wants to be accused of bad taste. So we leave it up to the professionals, the critics, to decide what is good for us. After all, who am I to like something if it doesn’t have a seal of approval, right?

    Take for instance the 1982 Harrison Ford movie “”Blade Runner.”” The film was universally panned and a box-office failure when it opened. It took about a decade and a steady cult following to resurrect this film. The critics retracted their original statements, and now the film stands as one of the top 100 films of all time.

    In a similar vein, the Impressionists were derided in their own time by the establishment. Now Van Gogh’s “”Starry Night”” is featured on everything from car visors to credit cards.

    To paraphrase philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell, we can’t recognize innovation within our own generation.

    The problem is that we judge new works of art by classical standards and apply a set of established rules to measure if it has any aesthetic value. To think that art or, rather, “”good”” art is the result of controlling different elements like there is some magic formula creates a limiting environment for creativity.

    The critics may be culturally savvy, they may have intimidating credentials, they may be so avant-garde that they realized God was dead even before He knew about it, but ultimately it’s only their opinion. You’ve got your own opinion to form whether it vibes with them or not. All it takes is the courage to like what you like.

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