Thursday, January 14, 2016

Honest Criticism

What’s honest criticism?

Engaging in honest criticism means assessing an artwork without prejudices and preconceptions. It means rejecting accepted narratives and looking at the work in question with new eyes and a fresh mind.

An example of this can be found in the world of classical (symphonic) music. Those whose task is to fill seats for venues know there is one classical work more than any other guaranteed to sell tickets—and more, to overwhelmingly please those who attend the concert, even if (or especially if) the audience does not consist of classical music aficionados.

The piece I’m thinking of is not by one of the usual names—Mozart, Bach, Beethoven. It’s not Handel’s “Messiah” or Beethoven’s Ninth. The composer is relatively obscure. He composed the work in a very questionable society with reprehensible ideals. He followed none of the acceptable musical trends of his time.

The work?

“Carmina Burana,” by Carl Orff.

As no other musical work does, the piece combines power and beauty. It’s awe-inspiring. At moments it sounds like the voice of God. To the listener new to the composition, every minute is unpredictable. The music is passionate; uplifting; overwhelming—a tremendous crowd pleaser.

Would any serious music critic proclaim “Carmina Burana” the greatest musical work of them all? Or would they point out what it does not do—that it doesn’t follow their own rules?

When one considers the pure listening experience—which hits the audience member on a variety of aesthetic levels—there may be no musical work which tops “Carmina Burana.”

Which means, if “Carmina Burana” doesn’t meet all the accepted standards, it’s time to rethink the standards.


The question: does a similar situation apply in the similarly marginalized world of books and literature? Do we judge literary works on the total reading experience?

Should we?

Stay tuned for Part II of this essay.


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