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Better Living Through Criticism

How to Think About Art, Pleasure, Beauty and Truth

By A.O. Scott
15-minute read
Audio available
Better Living Through Criticism: How to Think About Art, Pleasure, Beauty and Truth by A.O. Scott

Better Living Through Criticism (2016) explores the role of the critic. From the historical significance of criticism to the future of the digital critic, these blinks are an engaging introduction into an indispensable aspect of art and culture.

  • Students of visual art, literature or cultural studies
  • Readers curious about the influence of criticism on creative culture
  • Budding art writers seeking a big picture perspective on their discipline

A.O. Scott became a film critic for the New York Times in 2000 and was named Chief Film Critic in 2004. In addition, Scott is a distinguished professor of Film Criticism at Wesleyan University and writes for the New York Times Magazine and Book Review.

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Better Living Through Criticism

How to Think About Art, Pleasure, Beauty and Truth

By A.O. Scott
  • Read in 15 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 9 key ideas
Better Living Through Criticism: How to Think About Art, Pleasure, Beauty and Truth by A.O. Scott
Synopsis

Better Living Through Criticism (2016) explores the role of the critic. From the historical significance of criticism to the future of the digital critic, these blinks are an engaging introduction into an indispensable aspect of art and culture.

Key idea 1 of 9

Critics must react to art in the moment, without fear of backlash.

We’re living in a fast-changing culture. From music to fashion, an underground hit can become a worldwide trending topic at breakneck pace. Criticism is much the same way – and that’s how it should be.

While artworks themselves last for a long time, with our attitudes toward them changing over years and decades, criticism is fixed in a single moment. Take rock music, for instance. Though the genre was initially rejected by revered music critics, today rock’n’roll is recognized as a pivotal moment in musical history. The first negative critiques of rock music, on the other hand, became irrelevant.

Often, when artists create work that breaks with the status quo and shocks society, criticism of this work changes over time alongside our understanding of it. Nevertheless, it’s the critic’s job to tackle the problem of examining art in the context of current conditions – even though their opinions and predictions could be contradicted or proven wrong by future cultural shifts.

This is no small task, especially considering the sheer amount and range of works that require the intellectual scrutiny of the critic. Today’s critics are no longer just concerned with fine arts enjoyed by the elite. Traditionally “low-brow” forms of art also provide them with a wealth of interesting material to deconstruct. Even superhero movies tell us a lot about cultural attitudes today and are worth examining.

However, our culture is also one that doesn’t respond well to criticism. Part of the critic’s task is to provoke thought, which often means articulating unpopular or controversial opinions. Backlash is to be expected.

Even the author of this book sparked a heated online conflict over his biting review of The Avengers: Age of Ultron. On Twitter, the film’s star, actor Samuel L. Jackson, demanded that Scott find a new job, and thousands of fans were spurred on to attack Scott. But he wasn’t too concerned. The incident gave him notoriety as a critic and ensured that his job would never be in jeopardy.

Of course, being a critic isn’t all about playing devil’s advocate. In the following blinks, we’ll learn about what makes criticism valuable. But first, let’s take a closer look at the intimate relationship between art and criticism.

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