I have a discussion group on Amazon called Thriller, Suspense and Mystery Writers and Readers (See! You’re a member already!). Here’s a link.
We had a little fracas the other day with a typical Internet type, the kind who seems to get his jollies by ripping people’s work. And the conversation got me thinking about critics and why the whole concept of criticism is off-base.
First of all, the logic that a critic (whether professional or, in this case, amateur) can make informed judgments about what will be considered great art someday in the future is a joke. That decision gets rendered fifty or a hundred years from now and depends to an absurd degree on history we can’t foresee. Let’s face it—if there’s a libertarian revolution in this country in the next ten years, Ayn Rand will suddenly become one of the ‘great’ writers despite her shortcomings; if it’s a drug culture uprising, Hunter Thompson may rise to the top ten of all time, at least as patron saint.
It also depends on the evolution of artist’s careers and popular taste. If you asked movie critics in 1940 who was the best actor in Hollywood, who would they have picked? Not Jimmy Stewart—a callow youth. Not Bogart—a detective or gangster. Spencer Tracy? Nah, he’s just a buddy for Gable movies. Gable? Shallow. Cary Grant? A playboy light comedian.
Who? Of course! Paul Muni! You can see him think! Oy, can you see him think. Nobody can watch him anymore. I suspect De Niro will be seen this way in fifty years.
However, none of this is the main point. So? Get to the main point already, dammit! Okay…
The main point, as far as I’m concerned, is that we like what we like. Some people love Garcia Marquez and Spider-Man (me, for example). Some people love Elizabeth Gilbert and Sex in the City.
The point of art really is to find what you need, to find what speaks to you. Whatever you think is good art—you’re right. If it makes you feel, it succeeded. The longer I live with the Internet, the more I’m convinced it’s essential nature is democratic. Hopefully, it will have that effect on art and criticism.
We are a universe of souls wandering around seeking meaning, so we need a universe of art to fill that need. And anyone who thinks there’s one meaning to the universe needs to get out more.