Post #136 • October 27, 2003, 7:06 AM
On Thursday night last week I stumbled upon an event sponsored by the Miami branch of the Slow Food Movement. This is something I had heard about in Italy – a reaction to the culture of fast food that emphasizes local food producers, quality products, sustainable farming methods, and a deceleration of the event of eating. In Italy, apparently, entire cities have become Slow Food, and have outlawed the opening of McDonald’s within their limits. I concluded wrongly that I would never see this kind of thing here in Miami. The event was hosted by the artist Miralda – he of the big shoe in the Design District fame – in his space on North Miami Avenue.
The event was a wine and cheese tasting. I don’t know anything about wine except whether the glass I’m drinking tastes good to me or not, but the one I had was delicious. The cheeses were amazing, especially the soft chevres, sweet in the main but with sour overtones. There was another that I wouldn’t make a habit of that had echoes of walnuts, vinegar, and musk ox; it was good for the first few bites, with a lot of bread.
I got into a conversation with New Times art critic Alfredo Triff and genius-for-hire Caren Rabbino about whether art criticism was an intellectual activity or not. My position is that reason does not enter into criticism – opinions can’t be justified – but they can sound reasonable, and that is the critic’s art. Triff, Ph.D. in Philosophy that he is, didn’t want to go that far, and neither did Caren. I agreed with them that it was boring and suspect to read about a critic having one visceral reaction after another.
Critics have a job to write compelling prose about subjective experiences. I can’t prove to you that the glass of wine I had last Thursday was delicious, and your inclination to question my judgement about how it really tasted (in other words, how it would have tasted to you) may be either piqued or mitigated depending on your reaction to my admission that I don’t know much about wine. The cheese I was able to get my brain around – I have consumed more cheese than wine to date – and my description, I think, sounds more reasonable. It’s still just as subjective, but the details give you the impression that it would have, perhaps, tasted the same way to you. Forgive me for telling you what you’re thinking, but I’m right, aren’t I? This reasonableness is generated by my ability to find compelling analogies and cite details. The same things drive fiction.
The intellectual component is needed for taxonomic distinctions (what distinguishes a chevre from other goat cheeses? Anything?), history, appreciation of process, and understanding of what the germane parameters are. But in the end, that glass of wine might have tasted terrible to you, and no amount of intellectual debate would have convinced you otherwise.
Does that mean criticism is an empty exercise? No, because individual subjective reactions change the product when amassed, and the ones that are articulated compellingly are more influential that the ones that aren’t. We’ve decided over time that some rancid milk products are garbage and others are gorgonzola. Individual responses distinguished one from the other, keeping in mind that the line between cheese and spoiled curds may not be a sharp one. (Me, I detest blue.)