Eliot Luke on the Arts, critique and writing
Firstly, I would like to clarify what I mean by art.
I use the term in regards to all artistic expression, whether that be drawn, written or filmed. This is a broad category to address in respect to critical theory and its relation to art (modern or historical). My premise is as thus: critical theory is effectively worthless.
I say this both in regards to the validity of the theory/theories as a whole but also their application to art. Critical Theory has one, major, underlying flaw; it offers no solutions. The purpose of it is to criticise anything and everything about a piece of art and make sure it conforms to the particular perspective of that theory (let’s take Marxism as an example) ensuring that regardless as to the original intent of the author, it is now about class struggle and is a representation of the fight between the proletariat and the bourgeois. The inherent difficultly here is that because it offers no solutions it is not a good criticism, those that critique work whilst offering no improvements are titled ‘armchair critics’. The definition of this reads ‘a person who knows or pretends to know a lot about something in theory rather than practice’. Critical Theory fits perfectly into this category as it does not proffer a fix for the problems it sees, it states that they are there and then expects something to happen. This makes it worthless as a critical theory as it is incapable of suggesting an improvement, it serves no function. Moreover it ignores the art itself, a poem such as ‘Her Kind’ by Anne Sexton, is a good example of a poem conveying the story of the life of a woman and what she had done in her lifetime. It discusses the various stages of life which she has gone through and is overall a well-crafted poem capturing the rebellion of youth, the sentimentality of adulthood and the facing of death. It offers insight into the life of one who has done much with her time on earth.
A Feminist reading (for example) would utterly ignore the structure of the poem and the story it tells and simply complain that she became more submissive (I would call mature) in her age and has become too feminine and thus controlled by “patriarchy”. This completely misses the reason behind the writing of the poem and lacks any significance, it is irrelevant as this was not the message that the author wrote the poem for. It does not seek the true meaning behind the poems inception but rather the ideological perspective of the reader viewing it through a feminist lens. Neither does it acknowledge the poem as a piece of art and this is what I consider to be the worst transgression. It, along with all other perspectives of critical theory, see it as a political statement, nothing more. There is attention paid to the balanced nature of the character within the poem, there is no curiosity as to why the women found herself ‘not ashamed to die’. The only thing that matters is that in the first verse paragraph of the poem she rebelled against societal norms and thus the bourgeois. That is all a Marxist theorist would see, nothing about the quality of the art itself only their incontrovertible political position.
Art should be critiqued for what it is, the ultimate expression of humanity. No other species on earth can create art for the sake of art. No other living thing in existence that we know of can envision an entirely new world that is not bound to the world, that can dare imagine a world with mysticism or new technologies not yet created. The question should never be ‘is it art?’, but rather ‘what does it add to the world of art?’. ‘Her Kind’ is a poignant addition as it is not only well written, but also a comment on how people change throughout their lifetimes. We can call a glass of water on a shelf “oak tree” (I am not kidding this is a real thing in a modern art gallery), a worthless addition to the world of art as it has no meaning and was not made as an expression of the heart but rather a cheap, pretentious attempt at fame. Similarly we can call ‘Twilight’ (both film and book) a work of art and yet also criticise it for its utterly bland characters and (in the film) an excess of ‘stares’. A Marxist reading of Twilight would not tell us why it is bad because it does not consider it to be an art form, indeed Marxism disagrees with the mere concept of individual choice and thus individual expression. Critical theory is not fit for purpose as it does not acknowledge art for what it is but rather what its ideological perception of reality wants to believe it is.
And you can take it from me, there is a colossal difference between those two.
-Eliot Luke, year 12
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