Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Criticism: The VERY Early Years

VLADIMIR: Abortion!
ESTRAGON: Morpion!
VLADIMIR: Sewer-rat!
ESTRAGON (with finality): Critic!
He wilts, vanquished, and turns away.

--Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot

Criticism: The Early Years

Most film critics start very young; they start writing when they're in college, and then they hope to get a job at some newspaper or, failing that, with an alternative press publication. That's not the way it happened with you at all, is it?

What you just described is quite accurate, but relatively recent. People didn't yearn to become critics when I was young. Criticism was the sort of thing you fell into if you weren't careful. (Laughter.)

--Stanley Kauffmann interviewed by Bert Cardullo

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Toward an Economic Theory of Criticism: A Call for Papers

We have no formal training in economics, and with the exception of Sheridan Dupre, we have no formal training in criticism. Nonetheless, we articulate here the germ of a sweeping economic theory of criticism and invite those with expertise in relevant fields to take up the enquiry.

“Economic theories of X or Y,” so far as we understand them, explain institution X or phenomenon Y according to X's or Y's relation to the free market. Under these theories, X and Y spring up as side-effects of, or responding to some need of, the market.

As a threshold matter, those with expertise in economics might immediately correct what may very well be our ill-conceived notion of what an economic theory is, perhaps putting an end to our call for papers. To the extent that we are correct, however, we seek to examine the phenomenon of criticism from this “economic theory” perspective, to wit: what forces in the market create a need for criticism, etc.

We begin with the presumption that criticism would seem to be a consequence of the presence of large amounts of human capital invested in the creation, production and dissemination of art. However, we proceed to the rather startling thesis, that, in fact, criticism is NOT a consequence of the presence of large amounts of human capital invested in the creation, production and dissemination of art.

We call for papers from social scientists and others willing to design and undertake thoroughgoing empirical studies. Similarly, we call for papers from econometricists and others who might endeavor to put these studies into the form of charts, curves, and mathematical equations. We also invite studies opposing our thesis, as long as they are suitably scientific. Our aim is to foster dialogue. We call for both descriptive and prescriptive analyses.

In future posts we will flesh out the thesis briefly. We use the space below to craft, as it were, and chisel, again, as it were, a working definition of “art,” and we are open to suggested subtractions, replacements and addenda, though we do not call for papers on this preliminary topic.

We define art—perhaps artificially, but, we think familiarly—as a class of artifacts which purport to reflect to some degree their creators' points of view and which are designed for aural, intellectual, and/or visual edification and/or enjoyment. This definition distinguishes art from almost anything with a practical use. We intentionally define art broadly, to include mass cultural artifacts, such as pop songs, and collaborative artifacts without a unified authorial agency, such as movies. However, our definition may be somewhat circular in the sense that it intends only to include those art forms that are the traditional subjects of professional criticism.

Under this definition—which ascribes to art no metaphysical import—art objects can be consumer products, and as such the markets for various art forms would seem to control the demand, supply, production costs, and pricing of art objects.