Serious Arts Criticism, or, The Curse of Black, Licorice-Flavored Jelly Beans
One of the most irritating parts of writing about the arts is being subjected to the same outraged op-eds over and over again. Every few weeks some well-meaning person seems to conclude the they and they alone are capable of enlightening the benighted arts community about why it is we’re not important or relevant enough. So they stand on a soapbox somewhere, or bang a spare shoe they brought for effect on the table to punctuate their diatribe, and make as much noise as possible about all the woes in the world they see. They often complain about critics and the arts press, of which they apparently do not believe themselves to be a part, for failing to make nuanced arguments. More often than not, they merely reveal their own ignorance in the process of grandstanding. As I’m bored with actually feeling it necessary to respond to or try to make sense of a senseless argument designed to achieve nothing more than the nodding of heads in agreement, and some Facebook likes and re-Tweets, I’ve decided to fully parse, and re-write, one such article: Richard Dare’s “The Scandalous Failure of Art and Music,” published on HuffPo on August 8. The below is essentially his argument, if it can be called that. In the original it passes for a stirring call to arms; in practice it’s just several hundred words of nonsensical and insulting outrage more in keeping with the talking heads he purports to oppose. –JMB.
Scandal! Outrage! Failure!
Presidential elections, the manipulation of a $300 trillion market, and businesses actively seeking to deny other people equal rights are all shallow, vapid, tabloidy stories that are distracting us from the real issues. Or sometimes they’re stories that weren’t told the right way. Or an important story that wasn’t sufficiently reported. I’m not sure exactly what I’m saying ‘cuz I mixed all those up there together but I’m sure you can figure it out. Then let’s take a minute to discuss the sort of society in which these stories overshadow important things like the sort of art I intend to talk about.
You, people who read a website the majority of whose content comes from unpaid labor, are more likely to get frivolous stories about celebrities–which you clearly want to read, because you do it all the time–than very serious arts criticism about the sort of things I think are important–which you don’t want to read because you clearly don’t. This is very bad because even though I’m about to explain all the ways I think the arts have failed our society and made themselves irrelevant, first I need you to understand that they are, in fact, totally relevant and an important component of our society. Also: art is like vegetables, in that I assume you don’t like either but you should consume both.
Remember how I just explained that art is important but you don’t like it because it’s like vegetables and you prefer celebrity gossip or unimportant stories about politics, economics, and equal rights? Well, the arts have totally failed you, which is why you don’t want to see art. You may hate vegetables but they’re healthy. But art isn’t healthy anymore because artists don’t make healthy stuff, because if they did you would totally eat it even though you don’t like it, like you don’t like vegetables but eat them anyway. But it’s not fun unhealthy stuff, like pizza, it’s like…the really bad flavor of jelly bean you all leave at the bottom of the dish ’cause no one wants to eat them. Like the black ones. Art is like black licorice flavored jelly beans: gross and not healthy for you. Also–did you hear about this guy shooting up a movie theater in Colorado? I’m not afraid to appropriate such a tragedy to make the syllogistic point that if we’d all watched plays about how bad that was instead of just reading actual news about it every time something like that happens, which is about every three weeks, maybe we totally would have stopped that from happening somehow in some way I won’t explain.
Portentous Subhead Promising to Summarize Vast Amounts of Information!
Just so we’re all on the same page, I’m going to reference a brief portion of an important but complex document examining a decade’s worth of arts business data. In short:
Based on my compelling and thorough arguments thus far, I ask you: what the fuck are we supposed to do?
Enough With the Nonsense! Now We’re Going to Get Down to It!
Without any demonstration that I am sufficiently informed to make this point, let me make this point: Never before in the history of anything ever have all of you in the arts or presenting art or writing about art been so fucking worthless. Our society has a lot of problems I just discouraged you from paying attention to on the news. Which I assume you weren’t anyway because you just read TMZ all day. You know who’s failed to address all those issues I just made fun of you for paying attention to? EVERYONE! But I’m only concerned with artists, who express no concern about racism, income inequality, xenophobia, education issues, homophobia, or issues of political economy. You have no opinion on those I’ve ever heard on TV. Shame on you.
TV sucks and market economics sucks because we’re all just consumers. Art could change that but first we in the arts need to stop making black jelly beans but more vegetable-like jelly beans, or maybe just vegetables, because if they were just vegetables people would have to eat them because that’s what they have to do. The first step is for you to have opinions on the above outlined subjects. Once you do I’m sure you’ll be sufficiently vegetable-like to be forced upon a vegetative populace lulled by fatty and sugary foods into compliance with whatever they see on TV. Once you are a vegetable, you will be on TV.
You remember how I started by complaining about a lack of serious arts criticism? Well serious criticism is the problem. Because it sometimes uses words I don’t know because I mainly worry about stuff on TV. And because I can’t understand some words I have concluded–and in this I’m certain I’m right–that all things with words in them that I don’t know are stupid, and that criticism should only feature things I understand and agree with or believe are right in advance because I know. This is how I understand what serious criticism is. Why don’t you write that?
Life isn’t all about consumerism and TV. For the love of fuck, why don’t artists ever tell us that? No artist has done that for a while, I think, and that’s the problem. Dear artists: stop toeing the line and supporting the status quo! Start making things about stuff that’s important as long as it’s not something I already said wasn’t important. Or if you are doing that, stop because it’s like a vegetable and people don’t like vegetables. Make jelly beans, but not black ones.
If we do what I say, in the future, we’ll be remembered for doing what I said, whatever that is, and it will have saved everything. Art can save us if only it stops doing whatever it’s doing now and does something different. Art can make our lives better so long as we figure out how to collectively shove it down the throats of every dumbfuck American who prefers paying attention to presidential politics and massive market manipulation affecting millions of people globally and reading TMZ, rather than listening to a philharmonic performing a tone poem about mass shootings. If they’d listened to that tone poem, maybe all those people wouldn’t be dead in Colorado.
—Signed, an entrepreneur of some sort who also runs a philharmonic in Brooklyn