The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website

Black Sky Thinking

A Parasitic But Necessary Art: Simon Price On The Role Of The Critic
Simon Price , October 18th, 2013 08:03

Mr Simon Price questions Will Self's attack on the critic in the internet age

Add your comment »

I already know what my next tattoo is going to be. In the most dramatically angular Vorticist font I can find, three words: 'USELESS AND DANGEROUS'.

Connoisseurs of short-lived early 20th Century artistic/political movements - and fans of the Manic Street Preachers - will already know the source: the vow from the Manifesto of the Futurist Painters (Umberto Boccioni et al, 1910) to "Regard art critics as useless and dangerous".

The meaning of this minor act of inked detournement will be twofold. The "dangerous" part is mere knowing self-flattery, but the "useless" bit bleeds a bitter truth. Last month, a major British newspaper also decided that art critics were useless. In a move which caused a deluge of dismay among readers and made headlines across the world, the Independent On Sunday, for whom I'd spent twelve years as Rock & Pop critic, dispensed not only with my services, but with those of their experts on art, theatre, dance, film, television, the lot. Instead, the paper proposed to run a digest summarising the views of other newspapers (rather making a mockery of the 'Independent' part of its name). As Muscovite mini-Murdochs the Lebedevs frantically tried to keep their little empire afloat, targeting mostly-freelance arts critics may have appeared an attractive way to cut corners, but to the rest of the world, it looked a lot like a white flag of surrender.

Even the most bullish arts critic would concede that what we do isn't as socially-vital as nurses or teachers. But that doesn't mean that it doesn't have significant cultural importance. The question of "Who needs critics anyway?" came to the fore again this week with the publication of Hatchet Job: Love Movies, Hate Critics, the latest book by Mark Kermode, esteemed film critic for the BBC and The Observer. The book was given a somewhat sniffy and ultimately pessimistic review by Will Self, in typically loquacious and lugubrious style, in The Guardian itself. I won't spend too long reviewing the review, as within the piece Self admits that "to write a book about film criticism is in the first place a little too much, but to critique such a work strikes me as altogether surplus to requirements", in which case a critique of a critique of a book about criticism is definitely too many layers of heavy-meta. Furthermore, I ought to state that I haven't yet read the book (it's on order as we speak), but I should also state that I am a committed Kermodist who believes that Mark exemplifies all that is good and necessary about the critic's art. In summary, it appears that Kermode makes a hearty defence of the role of the critic, while Self contends that, in an era when anyone can hear or watch pretty much anything at the click of a mouse or the prod of a touchscreen, that role is being rendered obsolete. It strikes me as likely that they're talking at cross-purposes, and that both men have a point. Self is right that the bell probably is tolling for criticism, Kermode is right that this isn't a desirable state of affairs.

In the modern, digitised, instant-access world, Self writes, "the role of the critic becomes not to help us to discriminate between 'better' and 'worse' or 'higher' and 'lower' monetised cultural forms, but only to tell us if our precious time will be wasted – and for this task the group amateur mind is indeed far more effective than the unitary perception of an individual critic". I disagree, doubly. While it's true that we are no longer gatekeepers, the idea that critics are merely humble consumer guides has already led to a culture of "if-you-liked-that-then-you'll-like-this" reviewing, where most music magazines might as well rename themselves Which CD?, with fatal consequences for readership figures. And the argument that the amateur masses will fill the gap left by the scrapheap-bound professionals is laughable. You only need to look at last week's much-mocked column on reggae by The Independent's editor Amol Rajan in the Evening Standard to see what happens when you get rid of music critics who actually know what they're talking about.

In 2000, a minor scandal caused titters in the world of cinema when it emerged that Columbia Pictures had been using invented quotes from a fictional film critic, one David Manning, allegedly from (real) Connecticut newspaper The Ridgefield Press, on their posters. These days, Columbia wouldn't need to bother, as it is becoming the norm for movie posters to be adorned with uncritically gushing 140-character endorsements culled from Twitter accounts of unprovable provenance. In the era of 'citizen journalism', everyone is a critic, at least potentially. But, just as punk rock's ethos of anyone-can-do-it showed, in reality anyone can't. There are, of course, many excellent review blogs out there. Indeed, the amateurs' freedom from industry pressure means that they're immune, at least in theory, to the catastrophic loss of nerve which has afflicted the professional music press, wherein distinctive voices have been sacrificed for homogeneity and "house style", and a vicious slagging of a major album is so rare that when it actually happens (see NME vs Tom Odell), it makes national headlines. But in any medium, the critic has to earn the right to the respect of their readership. Any bum can look up the facts on Google or Wikipedia, but it takes skill to analyse and contextualise.

Two evergreen quotes about music criticism come up time and time again. One, often attributed to Frank Zappa but most convincingly credited to American actor-comedian Martin Mull, is that "writing about music is like dancing about architecture". The other is from David Lee Roth: "Music journalists like Elvis Costello because music journalists look like Elvis Costello". The latter is a cracker (and not without truth), but the former has always struck me as moronically reductive. Quite apart from the fact that I wouldn't mind seeing Michael Clark have a stab at a ballet about Art Deco, you could, after all, make the same claim of any representative form where Piece Of Art X describes Thing Y. 'Singing about love', for example.

Because, while writing about semiquavers and bass frequencies is impossibly dry, there is almost endless mileage in expressing how a piece of music makes you feel. What a good critic provides, therefore, is a kind of informed subjectivity. (Let's nuke, once and for all, the idea that a review should be 'objective'. Any response to art is personal by definition, and anyone who claims to write with a detached, oracular, objective, all-seeing all-knowing authority is a pompous, arrogant ass.)

At its best, I'm a believer that criticism is an art in itself (albeit a parasitic one). When I'm lecturing students about the life of a critic - and believe me, I'm alive to the irony of telling others how to make a living from music journalism when I'm struggling myself - I tell them to aim for three things: be entertaining, be good and have a point. When it hits those three marks it makes for some of the greatest writing you could hope to read on any subject, a thing of value in and of itself.

Historically, criticism has also had a crucial role in honing and refining the art it describes. An ongoing dialogue existed between critic and artist, even if the latter was invariably loath to admit it. To put it bluntly, in the past, bands knew they could not get away with releasing the same lazy shit over and over without someone calling them on it. Furthermore, by championing uncommercial but innovative music, critics have often pointed to the art's next step forward in a way which the industry could not. (Indeed, to do so was usually directly against the industry's interests.) If critics are taken out of the equation, and bad art goes unchallenged, ask yourself: who wins? Follow the money for the answer. It won't be the readers. It won't be the art. Only the major entertainment corporations.

You're not going to get through this without a quote from Oscar Wilde. "The moment criticism exercises any influence", he once told an interviewer in a characteristically paradoxical Moebius Strip of logic, "it ceases to be criticism". If he's right about that, then criticism - its stock at a perilously low ebb - has never been in ruder health.

And if Will Self is right, and the likes of Mark Kermode are a dying breed, know this. A world with uncriticised art gets the art it deserves.

aaron.
Oct 14, 2013 12:13pm

Whatever happened to the belletrist? The man of letters? Criticism, when elevated to a high enough level of accomplishment, is an artform in-itself. So what if the discourse is exegetical, or a commentary on other works? Nobody claims Tarkovsky's 'Stalker' is "parasitical". And, let's be honest, in today's market conditions, the critic (or, more cynically, the free PR man) contributes towards generating much-needed hype and keeping the well-oiled machine ticking over. I can't think of many 'deserving' records or bands that would stand-out, autonomously and on their own strength, from the background of Web2.0 white noise. Can it be called a parasite when you need it to live?

Reply to this Admin

NB
Oct 14, 2013 12:25pm

Brilliant. Just brilliant.

Reply to this Admin

Lee O'Hanlon
Oct 14, 2013 12:49pm

Evidence that world not only needs critics, but needs critics like Simon Price.

Reply to this Admin

Huw
Oct 14, 2013 1:11pm

This idea of everyone becoming a macro-cultural producer that Self and others discuss reminds of this quote by Cicero, writing in the 1 century BC.

“Times are bad. Children no longer obey their parents, and everyone is writing a book.”

Reply to this Admin

Steve Barton
Oct 14, 2013 1:32pm

Sadly I have come late to Simon's work (I gave up on the Indy when it stopped taking the mick on the front page) but I am impressed with much of what I have read by Simon elsewhere and believe he has argued well here. I have one comment on the Self/Kermode thing - I have understood pretty much everything of Kermode's that I have read whereas almost everything I have read by Self was incomprehensible to me. Perhaps that would get me dismissed as ignorant by the man but frankly as I find him pretty vile in most respects I would take it as a compliment.

Reply to this Admin

MW
Oct 14, 2013 4:18pm

Self's point, it seems to me, is that the internet's abundance of freely accessed material - both content and critique - has irrevocably altered the role of the critic, as well as the nature of cultural consumption. It's a point that seems to be somewhat backed up by the fact that Mr Price doesn't actually know what newspaper Kermode writes for, but is aware of the website that it appears on for free (Kermode is the chief critic of The Observer, his copy consequently showing up on theguardian.com). There may also be a clue as to why The Independent deemed Price and his colleagues surplus to requirements - not because they are "useless", but because in a world where even they themselves access the work of their fellow professionals for free online rather than for cash in print, there simply isn't the money in the industry to pay them.

Reply to this Admin

John Doran
Oct 14, 2013 5:51pm

In reply to MW:

Oh do come on... your pedantry over the Guardian website not being the Guardian print edition proves absolutely nothing of the sort. As for the rest of your comment, you haven't really read what SP is saying that closely have you?

Reply to this Admin

Mormon
Oct 14, 2013 5:52pm

The doesn't look like a very convincing argument in favor of critics. They do seem quite useless to anyone with a pair of ears and an internet access indeed. Maybe if music journalists didn't find everything so amazing all the time and if they didn't try to sell us a new album of the year (or century) every week it would be easier to agree with this article portraying them as gatekeepers saving us from all the horrible, lazy stuff that would be otherwise released. As far as I can tell a lot of horrible stuff is still being released with or without the press's approval (but mostly with it), but maybe that has something to do with the fact that everyone's definition of good/bad/terrible/amazing is ultimately their own. Which takes us back to the original point: no use for critics, I'll trust my own ears first and foremost. The best a reviewer can do is help me figure out what I can expect from a record. Most of the time a good artwork is going to do just the same.

Reply to this Admin

Tom H
Oct 14, 2013 6:11pm

No one can stop critics writing, they can only stop paying them and there's an irony in this piece appearing on the Quietus which follows the contemporary model of having a majority of unpaid-for content (that isn't a dig, I know you don't make the money to do so).
The Independent with its tiny circulation is almost an irrelevance here, what's more important is having sites like the Quietus reach the level where they can support journalism, otherwise everyone will be sitting around waiting for Alex Petridis to retire so they can fight over that one pay cheque.

Reply to this Admin

John Doran
Oct 14, 2013 6:48pm

In reply to Mormon:

Pricey: "While it's true that we are no longer gatekeepers". Mormon: this article portraying them as gatekeepers

And this: "Which takes us back to the original point: no use for critics, I'll trust my own ears first and foremost."

Well, why are you hanging out on this site full of music criticism then?

Reply to this Admin

MW
Oct 14, 2013 6:50pm

In reply to John Doran:

Hi John, appreciate the engagement - your comment here is at least more coherent than the previous one you wrote then deleted.

I'm not sure how my point about the difference between content being consumed online and in print is mere pedantry. I think there is relevance that neither Price nor the copy editor (you?) were aware of which publication Kermode is actually employed by. I’m not saying I think there's anything wrong with consumption of journalism online, but that even critics choose to access criticism for free does seem some kind of indicator of how devalued criticism has become in the internet age. I would suggest the same could be said of most content.

For the record, I'm not saying that I necessarily side with Self over Price, indeed Price doesn’t seem to be placing himself entirely in opposition to Self (“Self is right that the bell probably is tolling for criticism”). In my previous comment I do actually say that say that the critic is not useless. Price’s summation of the role of the critic being to entertain, be good and have a point is perfectly reasonable, although personally I ascribe to the early 20th century theatre critic James Agate’s summation of the role of the critic as being to find out what the artist was trying to do, to say whether they had managed to do it well, and to discuss whether it was actually worth doing in the first place.

Please note that my previous comment is a paragraph, while Price’s article is around 1500 words, so please don’t expect it to contain a compelling critique of everything Price says. This doesn’t mean I “haven't really read what SP is saying that closely” – I tend to feel Price is somewhat defensively misreading Self, and that Self’s point is not about the death of the critic, but the need for a new criticism that engages with the medium of consumption. You are, of course, welcome to disagree.

Reply to this Admin

John Doran
Oct 14, 2013 7:08pm

In reply to Tom H:

Humbly, if I may... plenty of sites don't pay any of their contributors and have no intention of doing so. We pay for a not insignificant proportion of copy and have every faith that we'll be paying for all features in a year or two. We've hit targets on this score consistently over the last five years and have several new ideas in the pipeline. So I'm not sure that we subscribe to a commonly held model. No one's going to get rich, and very few are going to pay their mortgage or rent by being an online critic but this has more to do with advertising and the culture of expecting stuff for free online. Until we can safely charge people a modest cover fee and we get an equitable amount of advertising money from the industry, our financial contribution to the upkeep of criticism is going to remain marginal. Another way to cut this though, is to consider the fact that somewhere in the region of a quarter of all the money we raise goes to the writers. If print magazines can claim likewise I'd be incredibly surprised.

Reply to this Admin

John Doran
Oct 14, 2013 7:14pm

In reply to MW:

As you probably noticed earlier, our site was down for an entire afternoon, meaning normal subbing procedure wasn't followed as there was no way to access the piece. My point still stands that your pedantry on the 'in the Guardian'/'on the Guardian' distinction doesn't substantiate Self's argument to any extent at all.

Reply to this Admin


Oct 14, 2013 7:29pm

In reply to John Doran:

The part about what would happen if there no critics and bad art being unchallenged negates that though. As for your questions, there are things other than reviews to read on this website.

Reply to this Admin

John Doran
Oct 14, 2013 7:31pm

In reply to :

I didn't say the site was full of reviews I said it was full of criticism. Maybe you should hone your critical faculties a little.

Reply to this Admin

MW
Oct 14, 2013 7:40pm

In reply to John Doran:

I would have thought that in a discussion of the internet's impact on the criticism, the nature of the writer's consumption of criticism (i.e free online and not in print) might have been something other than pedantry. I stand corrected.

I hate to be pedantic, but wasn't this article posted before your site went down?

Reply to this Admin

John Doran
Oct 14, 2013 8:04pm

In reply to MW:

We're one man down due to a press trip abroad and I shouldn't have been in because I've got (actual, full blown, woman strength) flu - but such are the joys of running a fully independent music and culture website during a massive global recession when the industry *in general* is in complete crisis/flux; we don't allow ourselves too many sick days - so the piece was published and, as is sometimes the case when it's all hands to the pump, there was some confusion over who was subbing. When this happens we give it a second read through for small errors that might have been missed 'on screen' when the piece is live. If we had the luxury of having a massive subs desk, this wouldn't be a problem but we don't so hey ho. So, the piece got published and then not long afterwards the site went down for the rest of the (office bound) working day. And the phrase 'in the guardian' didn't get replaced for on the guardian, which in my book is a small error and doesn't really alter the essence of what's being said. But, I will grant you, that if you don't want to take my word for anything and you want to stick with the below the line default position of putting the worst possible spin on everything that pedantry and logic will allow, then you win. Well done you. The debate about "the nature of the writer's consumption of criticism (i.e free online and not in print)" is entirely relevant to the wider issues but isn't really what you were engaging with. IMHO.

Reply to this Admin

CF
Oct 14, 2013 8:54pm

By commenting here I'm aware I'm adding yet another layer to "a critique of a critique of a book about criticism" but that was an excellent article.

Reply to this Admin

MW
Oct 14, 2013 10:06pm

In reply to John Doran:

I'm really not trying to put the worst possible spin on everything, and I'm sorry that you're ill. My point re in/on The Guardian vs in The Observer really was about the nature of the writer's consumption of criticism (reread the comment: "Mr Price doesn't actually know what newspaper Kermode writes for, but is aware of the website that it appears on for free") and not mere nitpicking. It stands whatever level of subbing occurred. The "complete crisis/flux" in the industry that you describe seems, somewhat ironically, to be both the result of free online criticism and the subject of my original post (as well, partially, as Self's article). I'm not sure why I'm wrong to use logic to back up my arguments, but then I'm not especially au fait with below the line chatter.

Reply to this Admin

Joe Banks
Oct 14, 2013 10:18pm

For me, there's two basic points as to why the various reports of the death of criticism - particularly music criticism - have been greatly exaggerated. 1) With the sheer profusion of music available online now, there's a greater need than ever for individuals/outlets whose opinions you trust/respect to sift the wheat from the chaff - not as gatekeepers or arbiters of good taste, as in theory anybody can find and assess this stuff, but as navigators of an ever expanding musical landscape, mapping it out and providing directions to new and unexpected locations. 2) Personally speaking, my enjoyment/understanding of a piece of music can be greatly enhanced by a brilliant piece of writing about it, even music I didn't think I was that interested in. The idea that good music criticism is on its last legs just because anybody can knock out a review on Amazon is patently ludicrous.

Reply to this Admin

Jan
Oct 14, 2013 10:33pm

Mr Price, something you wrote years ago in the MM (early/mid 90s) really affected me a great deal. You mentioned how, when growing up, you'd dreamt of having a chart full of alternative bands like the Smiths and so on, but now that it was a reality it was a profound disappointment because there was the same ratio of dross as when it was all manufactured crap. And it really struck me because it was totally against the tide of journalism at the time trumpeting how great everything was. I stopped looking to the chart for validation, stopped pretending to like the new moz album at the time and just succumbed to music that reached me (which turned out to be techno of all things). Thank you very much. Yes we definitely need critics who introduce us to new artists, and just because some abuse this trust (quietus nearly making me waste money on the awful karl bartos album for example!) doesn't mean chucking everything out of the window.

Reply to this Admin

John Doran
Oct 14, 2013 10:55pm

In reply to MW:

Hey. You're conflating economic viability with intrinsic worth now and given that's the mindset you're from, I don't think we're ever going to see eye to eye on this - critics have always starved and been low down the pecking order in terms of pay - this has nothing to do with how good or necessary they are. (You're probably not familiar with George Orwell's essay 'Confessions Of A Book Reviewer'. It's great. You should read it some time. It was written in 1946.) Also, I've broken down the point about the Guardian/Observer into as simple terms as I can, so if you choose not to understand what I'm saying (or simply don't understand) then I guess I'm going to chalk this up as a misunderstanding. Take it easy.

Reply to this Admin

MW
Oct 15, 2013 12:39am

In reply to John Doran:

Well John, you are at least consistent in your rejection of logic. May I remind you that it was you, in your previous post, who brought up the "crisis/flux" in the industry, something I'm sure we can both agree has been largely the result of the industry's failure so far to successfully adapt to the new media landscape. Being low "down the pecking order in terms of pay" is not quite the same as not being paid at all, is it? I'm talking here about the Indy as much as about online criticism. (And yes, I do respect that you do pay some of your writers some of the time, and hope to pay all of them in the future, but that's not quite Orwell's model of the critic who "would not write about it unless I were paid to".) These statements, like everything I have said so far, do not amount to "conflating economic viability with intrinsic worth". I am quite simply not doing that, if I have given that impression I would like to correct it - my comments have even fewer subs than your website.

You have already agreed that "The debate about "the nature of the writer's consumption of criticism (i.e free online and not in print)" is entirely relevant to the wider issues" but refuse to believe that was the point (re theguardian.com v The Observer) I was making about in my original post, in spite of the fact I have said I was. It seems belligerent of you not to take me on my word at that, but I understand you've had a difficult day.

'Confessions Of A Book Reviewer' is indeed a lovely piece, but possibly not the greatest article to bring up in as defence of the critic (sample quote: "The great majority of reviews give an inadequate or misleading account of the book that is dealt with"). But then if you actually engaged with what I have said, rather than condescending and assuming I'm some kind of troll, you'd realise I'm not actually attacking criticism, merely suggesting its role has altered somewhat. I actually think criticism will adapt and survive just fine, with sites like The Quietus quite probably leading the way. So yes, take it easy.

Reply to this Admin

John Doran
Oct 15, 2013 7:03am

In reply to John Doran:

" Yes we definitely need critics who introduce us to new artists, and just because some abuse this trust (quietus nearly making me waste money on the awful karl bartos album for example!) doesn't mean chucking everything out of the window."

Vs.

"(Let's nuke, once and for all, the idea that a review should be 'objective'. Any response to art is personal by definition, and anyone who claims to write with a detached, oracular, objective, all-seeing all-knowing authority is a pompous, arrogant ass."

Reply to this Admin

JK
Oct 15, 2013 8:01am

the chat between john and MW is well good i forgot it was under an article.

Reply to this Admin

jaimbo
Oct 15, 2013 9:00am

Bukowski wrote poems slagging other poets.the Cribs wrote a great song HEY sCENESTERS..THE cURE wrote jumping someone elses train ..again ..slaggging..so moot point really..it cant all come up smelling daffodils..the Dada etc were all eloquent/vehement /funny ?..so ah ..if your just a plain critic ..consider making art as rebuttal ..some old greek?guy said the only valid bit of art was another piece of art..so mix the two

Reply to this Admin

BIA
Oct 15, 2013 9:45am

I have an interest in music so I listen to music and I have an interest in writing so I read. If the critic, while marrying the two together, leads me to listen to something new then fantastic – job done. If he doesn’t and I take five minutes to absorb what he’s writing, how he’s expressing it and I’m made to laugh – job done too.

Without the critic, amateur or professional, there is little pleasure in digesting press releases to sate my want for music writing.

One point I’d like to contest with Self is his regard to the critic’s role being reduced so they’re only there, “to tell us if our precious time will be wasted.”

Self predicts, “the group amateur mind is indeed far more effective than the unitary perception of an individual critic,” but surely this isn’t the case? Yes, collating recommendations, votes and other feedback information can play some role in filtering music and film – note how Netflix’s algorithm has become the envy of the VOD market. But I’d argue without the critic too this is a flawed exercise.

If an algorithm is going to suggested two albums for me to buy, would it suggest a 5 star it knows I’ve only got a 50% chance of liking and risk being 50% wrong or would it throw up another 4 star album that I’ve 95% chance of liking because of the recommendations it has had from others?

I’d suggest the latter and when the algorithm does too we’ve both lost.

Reply to this Admin

andy
Oct 15, 2013 11:42am

interesting music feeds interesting writing which further develops interest in the music, ideas about what it all means and connections. i think it's roughly that simple.

Reply to this Admin

Man o Man
Oct 15, 2013 1:05pm

Great piece, great points. But sadly, I think the majority of people who search out opinions on art ARE looking for "humble consumer guides." What else would explain the huge success of a music site like Pitchfork? And sadly, papers like the Independent are wise to the fact that far too many people can't tell the difference between the quality delivered by a professional critic and a hack willing to work for nothing. A few intelligent people will groan, but the changes in arts coverage will go largely unnoticed.

Reply to this Admin

John Doran
Oct 15, 2013 1:33pm

In reply to Man o Man:

Something to bear in mind here is the fact that a tiny fraction of people who use the internet can still amount to tens of millions of people and nothing's ever set in stone. So while the majority may or may not be satisfied with Argos Catalogue style criticism (which doesn't include p4k at all imho), there are already half a million individuals a month who read the Quietus. This is more than the number of people who read the NME per month at the height of its power (presuming that it was roughly the same 200,000 who bought it each week) and we aim on having much more readers by this time next year. We're not trying to reach everyone - that's too harsh and digital a way of looking at it - we're trying to reach the millions of people globally who feel the same way as us about music. Also my guess is that people can tell the difference between good and bad criticism and this is just one of many reasons why newspaper readership is falling right across the board.

Reply to this Admin

Chris
Oct 15, 2013 2:44pm

Why is John Doran answering for Simon Price? Is Price unavailable?

Reply to this Admin

John Doran
Oct 15, 2013 3:10pm

In reply to Chris:

Eh? I'm not answering for anyone, I'm engaging with some points being raised by the piece - as anyone is free to do. Pricey's a freelance journalist and probably has other more pressing things to be getting on with. Plus answering questions as the editor of the site isn't really that weird is it?

Reply to this Admin

Chris
Oct 15, 2013 3:21pm

In reply to John Doran:

No, I guess not. Respond away!
Oh, good piece btw.

Reply to this Admin

Apop
Oct 15, 2013 5:43pm

"A Triumph! Nowhere have I read such a masterly critique of a critique of a book about criticism!" - Apop, The Portland Tribune Mirrored Monthly Express

Reply to this Admin

Apop
Oct 15, 2013 6:01pm

I would argue the explosion in the volume and availability of art makes criticism even more necessary in these modern times. However, criticism as an art form in the digital age is no different than that of music. There's certainly no shortage and most of them are garbage - ya gotta sift through the rubbish to find the good stuff. I didn't read David Walker (former film editor at a local Portland weekly) 'cos I agreed with his tastes in film, I read him because he was entertaining as hell.

By the way, half a million readers a month? Well done Quietus! However, I shall now find a more obscure (thus more more cool) website.

Reply to this Admin

John Doran
Oct 15, 2013 6:11pm

In reply to Apop:

Oof. Touche.

Reply to this Admin

MH
Oct 15, 2013 9:40pm

There's one simple fact that supports the necessity of the art critic. In the internet age where anyone can write about and analyze music and art on the internet, which is more prominent?: insightful, creative pieces written independently on blogs, or the major-label advertisement fest on spotify and twitter. Remove yourself from the music obsessive circles I imagine most Quietus readers usually find themselves in and look at it from the perspective of an average music listener; the answer is clear.

Reply to this Admin

Jon
Oct 15, 2013 11:35pm

I enjoyed the article....but I may have enjoyed John & MW's dick measuring contest even more....

Reply to this Admin

R
Oct 16, 2013 1:00pm

I agree with a lot of what Simon Price says here. I think that the critic does have an important role in disseminating the vast array of cultural and artistic output and I do find that certain critics who I respect through their previous work, can serve as "barometers" for whether I will or will not like something. That of course doesn't prevent me still forming my own opinion and either agreeing or disagreeing with the view of the critic in question. For example, Mark Kermode is an excellent film critic whose opinion I value. I don't agree with all, or even most of his judgements but greatly appreciate the opportunity to read/hear them. For me the role of the critic is to go beyond simple recommendations of particular albums, films or books etc. and is to provide context, artistic critique and also opinion of works of art to stimulate thought and further debate.

Reply to this Admin

Jyoti
Oct 17, 2013 11:38am

I remember when the writing in the NME and Melody Maker was a more than worthy substitute for the music, which was hard to access then. And the reviews, trenchant as they were, were more reliable than the inflationary eight of tens one routinely finds in Mojo, Uncut, etc.
Or perhaps art really is so much better these days.

Reply to this Admin

Pat Blashill
Oct 17, 2013 3:31pm

Nice one, Simon Price. Criticism shouldn't need to be defended, but well, here we are. Can't speak for anyone else, but I read film and music criticism to help me think through any piece of art that is still annoying/puzzling or inspiring me five minutes after consuming it. A well-written review or essay can be more delicious than the art itself. (See everything written about Miley Cyrus, ever.) Isn't that defense enough?

Reply to this Admin

Tim
Oct 19, 2013 10:53am

It is not, in any way at all, an art.

Reply to this Admin

Allan
Oct 19, 2013 12:44pm

In reply to Tim:

Really? Care to explain why?

Reply to this Admin

John Doran
Oct 19, 2013 5:34pm

In reply to Tim:

The art/trade discussion is one of the most tedious going. Something is essentially art if its creator says it is. The fact of the matter is that there are enough people out there who read music journalism as an end in itself. It has intrinsic worth to some people; regardless of how crazy some people find the notion. I'd happily read about some bands that I would never dream of listening to and there are plenty of pieces of music writing where the creativity has far outstripped that of the actual music. (Although this is obviously an exception rather than a rule.)

The real question people should be asking themselves is whether individual pieces of music writing are any good or not.

Reply to this Admin

Bruce
Oct 31, 2013 4:00am

Some time back I wrote a few reviews for Prog Archives and its sister Jazz site but eventually gave up, dispirited by the breathless vapidity of 'show and tell' comments.
"I've just bought The Wall and it's the greatest thing ever. Pink Floyd might be as good as Porcupine Tree!"

I do not know the source of this idea (not me, certainly) but I like it: To attach any value to the criticism, you have to know the critic.
And only critics willing to be authentic and bold can be known or be worth knowing.
Thanks for your article. Terrific.

Reply to this Admin

Tim
Nov 7, 2013 4:47pm

In reply to John Doran:

Sorry for the tardy response, I've been away. I agree that music journalism (like all other types of journalism) can be entertaining and informative and does have some value. I also agree that there is a relationship between artist and journalist that can help shape work (though far less significant than many music journalists may believe). However, I really do take issue with your assertion that something is art "if its creator says it is", which is patently absurd and self-aggrandising. Perhaps the art / trade (I would say art / craft personally) debate is "one of the most tedious going" to you but for me (and I suspect many others) I think it's very interesting and relates as much to modern music as it does to music journalism. Is it possible you don't like this debate because your best response, as detailed above, is so facile? Just as music journalism is subjective so too are responses to it and personally I find a journalist essentially claiming to be an artist a little offensive. I don't mind others disagreeing with me though, I just don't believe I've heard a convincing argument yet.

Reply to this Admin

BT
Nov 8, 2013 1:06pm

In reply to CF:

It's just a reflection of a reflection of a reflection of a relfection of a reflection.

Reply to this Admin

Greg
Nov 12, 2013 7:55am

In reply to MW:

realism is sad

Reply to this Admin

matt milton
Nov 12, 2013 12:51pm

"...But, I will grant you, that if you don't want to take my word for anything and you want to stick with the below the line default position of putting the worst possible spin on everything that pedantry and logic will allow, then you win. Well done you."

Hahahahahahahahahahahahaha! John Doran, thank you for writing that. Not only a smart riposte but, like much of this piece and thead, neatly summing up up why conscientious writers [critics] are necessary.

If the Quietus had a "Donate" button - linking to Paypal, say - I'd have chucked a quid in the ePot for that alone.

Reply to this Admin


Nov 12, 2013 1:11pm

Tim – "personally I find a journalist essentially claiming to be an artist a little offensive. I don't mind others disagreeing with me though, I just don't believe I've heard a convincing argument yet."

I would refer you to the fizzy Joycean babble of 90s fanzine Bananafish.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bananafish_Magazine

Reply to this Admin

Tim
Nov 13, 2013 11:34pm

In reply to :

Hello, thanks for that. I had not heard of it before, very interesting. I'm not convinced it's journalism as art so much as art employing some of the trappings of journalism but it's definitely an interesting fusion of the two. I think perhaps it stands up as art because it is creative, not so much reactive. It certainly bears no comparison with the type of traditional music journalism you'll find here. Thanks, I shall investigate more.

I would like to add that I am a fan of the writing on the Quietus lest anyone think otherwise, but whether it be Lester Bangs, Nick Kent, Simon Price or John Doran I strongly dislike music journalists who equate the standing or significance of their work with that of the artists they are paid to talk about. It doesn't mean said writings have no value, but it is a very, very different value to that of art.

Reply to this Admin

John Doran
Nov 14, 2013 12:04am

In reply to Tim:

I think you've missed the point of what I'm saying somewhat. (You sniffily call what we do a craft - I don't really care what you call it, it's not really something that I'm interested in but I will support the right of ANOTHER professional colleague of mine who has spent her or his entire adult life doing this to call it art if they so desire. You're making a mistake in claiming that any of us do though. I think out of the writers I know loosely - and I know hundreds of the fuckers, maybe only Marcello Carlin calls what he does art. I definitely, 100% do NOT think of what I do as art.)

I don't think what I write is art and I have never claimed to be creating art once in the decade or so I've been doing this. And while it's nice of you to mention me in the same sentence as Bangs, Kent and Price, I don't think I belong in that exalted company.

However, if one of my colleagues wants to claim his written work is art then you (or I) are no more in a position to claim it's not art than we are to claim a light switching on or off or a urinal or a solid shape constructed from a grid of two by three by ten house bricks is art. And at the risk of repeating myself - just because this upsets your sensibilities and your notions of respect and humility - it doesn't mean it's not true. I also think you're putting two and two together and coming up with 69 when you say that any of us are claiming to be more important than the music. I have never done this and I bristle slightly at the suggestion I have. In fact I'm on the record - ad nauseum - questioning the exact role of the critic in the internet age and saying that we should count ourselves lucky to be one of the shaping agents in the international conversation that occurs about music. I certainly don't see myself as a *spits on floor and grinds it into the dirt with shoe* "gatekeeper" or a "tastemaker" - in fact I'm on the record as saying that I have terrible taste in music.

So I'll try and make the point in a different way and see if you find it easier to see what I'm saying: why argue about semantics (I say potentially art at a push if its creator so wishes, you say probably craft - let's call the whole thing off) when arguing about the merit of individual pieces of writing is far more germane and interesting. You can call one of my essays a feature, you can call it an article; you can call it journalism, you can call it prose; you can call it art, you can call it bullshit; fuck me, you can call it Susan if it makes you feel better. What's in a name though? It's still dancing round the periphery of what it's for and what effect it has.

Reply to this Admin

John Doran
Nov 14, 2013 12:06am

In reply to John Doran:

His or her, goddamnit.

Reply to this Admin

Tim
Nov 14, 2013 12:38pm

In reply to John Doran:

John, ok lets call detente here and smoke a peace pipe. You and I clearly see some things very differently and I did not mean my comments to be interpreted as a personal attack. I still disagree with you on a number of your assertions but that's fine, there's no need to be so hostile. I like this site. I enjoy a lot of the writing here, I admire the passion. When I call something a craft that is not in anyway "sniffy" or a dismissal. It's a distinction. I am a film editor, I consider my work to be a craft. I also don't believe the art / craft debate is one of semantics, but a far richer and more interesting one. I do realise however that it is highly tangential to the point of this article, so apologies for dragging you down a below-the-line side street. Anyway, let's just agree to disagree, I'm sure you have more important things to do than argue with me.

Reply to this Admin

John Doran
Nov 14, 2013 9:51pm

In reply to Tim:

Ah, come on man! If you call me facile you've got to expect a bit of rough and tumble in return! But yeah, there's nothing here to argue about. 'Craft' is an interesting word etymologically (especially in relation to arts and crafts) but I (mistakenly it turns out) sensed something pejorative in it because I associate it to have associations of skill but also of hobbyism - and this, for better or worse, is how I've earned my living for 15 years. And for the record - I simply call what I do writing. There's no room for misinterpretation then! Take it easy and thanks for the positive things you've said about the site.

Reply to this Admin