In my first entry I have decided to focus on Pope’s “Essay on Criticism” as it relates to my experience with taste, and relying on criticism and praise to discover art. The age we live in is one in which critical reviews are of extreme importance to any artistic expression. Before you try a restaurant, you will most likely pull up a review on your phone from one of the numerous services available. Peer sourced reviews judge the restaurant, giving the “experience” a finite, mathematical rating. It is worth an inquiry as to whether such a common practice is worthwhile or even accurate, taking into account Pope’s comments on proper criticism.
I have always believed that there is always a certain level of objectivity in the judgement of art. While I agree that taste can be attributed to man’s independent nature, there are certain definable qualities in any object of judgement that are measurable. Pope argues criticism should look back to classic works, and be dictated by the “authorities” in that field. He also provides a commentary on the critic himself, stating that to properly judge another’s work, he must have a full understanding of his own tastes.
Pope’s ultimate conclusion, however, is similar to my own. There are the “irrational qualities and nameless graces” which can separate a work of art, whether it be a dish of food or a piece of music, that do not fit within classical boundaries. Therefore, a rigid interpretation of a piece of art based on classic rules will not always provide an accurate judgement of art, in particular, artistic genius. If the boundaries of art are to be pushed, the rubric of artistic judgement will always change, and yet I also agree one should exist.
As Pope notes, this is a fine and difficult balance to achieve. A 9 out of 10 rating, for example, will never fully capture the emotional depth I have experienced from an album. It is an application of a mathematical judgement to human expression. And yet, there are measurable qualities of such an album that merited it that rating in comparison to other works in that field.
In my day to day life, I rely heavily on reviews before I go out to each, download a piece of music, see a film, or attend a concert. While it has more often than not lead me down the right path, the criticism or praise of others should not be taken as full guidance. I love art that others have disparaged, and cases of this have certainly been documented to the chagrin of the artists and the detriment of the critic. The classic example of this is Rolling Stone, the authority on rock music journalism at the time, giving a low rating to Led Zeppelin’s first albums. They are now considered to be some of the defining works in that genre, and to have inspired generations of musicians. As Pope would describe it, the critic could not understand the genius behind the work to properly analyze and criticize it. While reviews help me select from the vast amount of art that is immediately available to me through the internet, I do fear that this development of our culture could lead to a loss of exploration of the fringes of artistic culture, which I believe are necessary in developing the artistic canon of society as a whole.