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the opposite of criticism

Post #379 • October 4, 2004, 11:10 AM • 12 Comments

From The Art of Twentieth Century Zen by Audrey Yoshiko Seo:

Occasionally, however, Yuzen's own interest in painting and calligraphy got the better of him. During a lecture Yuzen said, "When I was at a big Buddhist meeting and ceremony that was attended by Zen Masters and abbots from all the Zen sects, there was a collection of autographs and writings by these monks. Among them the Kancho of Daitoku-ji, Kazan Roshi, had written the words 'Bright Dignitaries' [meirekireki]. But the reki character was written incorrectly as the word ma, so the phrase could not be read properly. I let this slip out of my mouth, and Kazan Roshi said, 'Yuzen, there is no need to worry, since it has my name below it. It is not a problem for you.' His point was that a person who follows his own spirit has no excess nose to stick into another person's work."




October 4, 2004, 7:42 PM

Franklin, I fail to see the relevance of this to art criticism, which raises the question: What's your point? If a person makes or does something directed at an audience, which that audience must evaluate in order to process it, any member of the audience is entitled to point out and/or object to any defect. Frankly, if someone makes a spelling error in a document meant for others, it is not appropriate to respond to a person who points it out with something like "I wrote it, so you shut up about it."


that guy in the back row

October 4, 2004, 9:00 PM

Franklin: are you saying you are opting out of criticism because "you've chosen to follow your own spirt?" or is this just an aspect of criticism that you are endorsing today. If I didn't know you better I'd supect there wasn't much to review last week in Miami.



October 4, 2004, 9:35 PM

That son of a monkey-san ROSHI just can't take criticism.



October 4, 2004, 9:53 PM

Every now and then I see a response to art so completely antithetical to my own that I find it fascinating. That "this is not a problem for you" stuck in my head, not because I'm getting out of the criticism business, but because I used to take all the bad art I saw personally and get super ticked off about it. Now it amuses me more than anything.



October 4, 2004, 10:04 PM

The role of the art critic in my opinion should be to analyze work in order to better understand it; unfortunately it seems to be more about pointing out mistakes. When Yuzen noticed the mistake he didnt need to ask what those words meant but he pointed it out anyway, maybe he was worried that others would not be able to understand. Is it then an issue of trusting the master? Maybe a good art critic should not be criticizing art made by an artist who cannot be trusted.



October 4, 2004, 11:19 PM


You don't analyze art to understand it. A work of art is not a financial report. You take it in and experience it and judge how good it is, what it does for you. That is the pleasure of the art lover and the job of the art critic, who usually goes on to write something about the art and that experience.

And the critic need not trust the artist. Artists are no more trustworthy than anyone else. He has to trust his eye.



October 5, 2004, 6:43 PM

Oldpro: I appreciate your distaste for the analytic approach to art and don't mean to split hairs with you, but why should "analysis" (considered liberally) and "experience" be so opposed?

Maintaining a view of thought and experience, or cognition and emotion, as incompatible simply enables the suspicion of the value of aesthetic thought (or aesthetic truth) and gives license to the coldly analytic.



October 5, 2004, 7:08 PM


I did not say they were incompatible, just different. Obviously it is possible to analyze art, or do a hundred other things with it. I have no "distaste" for analysis, I maintain merely that analysis is not how you get what art has, what art is "for". Than can only be done through experience. Analysis is a recipe; experience is in the eating.

I think I would also hold that there is no such thing as "esthetic truth". Truth is conformity to fact. Esthetic has to do with judgement, feeling, and the like, where "truth" is not a factor.

I hope this does not spark one of those heated discussions with a "value" subtext that never surfaces. I am only trying to be clear about the meaning of terms.



October 5, 2004, 9:38 PM

Oldpro: Allow me to flail a bit (and if I range into polemic or seem to be provoking a heated discussion "with a 'value' subtext," go ahead and slap me, but know that it's not my intent)...

I like your culinary metaphor, but would suggest a refinement: that the recipe in this case is one that is arrived at after the eating. I'd liken this to the wine connoisseur's analysis of flavors and bouquet after a bit of sipping, slurping and sloshing. The goal is not simply to judge the quality of the experience, but to pick it apart and indentify the elements and qualities that produce it, the hope being that doing so enhances the experience itself.

Likewise, the art critic offers a post hoc reflection on the qualities and elements of their experience of a work of art--analysis, one would hope, rooted first and foremost in the experience itself. And, while engagement with such analysis is certainly not required for experiencing an artwork, one would hope that we as subjects can benefit from the focus offered by a critical eye. Experience begets analysis/reflection, and analysis informs experience.

Yes, analysis and direct experience are different. My point is that they do not necessarily have to represent different or opposing approaches to the consideration of art. I do agree that the purpose, so to speak, of art is in the experience of it. That experience, however, both feeds and is fed by the accompanying reflection (I think a shout out to John Dewey is called for here--he speaks of an experience (and thus the art work itself as well as the experience of it) as the product of an interplay "undergoing" and "doing," of undergoing and reflection).

And as much as this dynamic lies at the heart of anyone's experience of a work of art, it ought to apply in particular to the work of a critic. It shouldn't be enough to ask for an art critic to merely act as our surrogate in experiencing or judging a work of art. We seek out a critical perspective with an eye towards an understanding and intensification of our own experience. This often requires an interrogation of its sources and ingredients, and this is most certainly a part of the job of a critic.



October 5, 2004, 11:27 PM


No, your response is not what I was whining about. I meant comments of the "so how come you hate truth so much, you facist" variety.

Once again, I only maintain that experience and analysis are different, not that they are opposing or cannot interrelate. I think what you are arguing for is not that they are coterminous but that they both can be used when dealing with art. Of course they can. They are certainly different approaches to art, because they describe different actions. It is a matter of definition. And analysis cannot be used to evaluate art in the absence of any specific criteria, only experience can.

I do think that I would take issue with your statement "Experience begets analysis/reflection, and analysis informs experience", or at least I would want to refine and particularize it. The first part is obviously true; the second part, strictly speaking, is not. We are forever analyzing experience, but analysis, although it can affect what we make of experience, cannot affect experience itself. Experience, as such, is only experience.

Thanks for the Dewey reference. I will read it. Kant is my main man and it has been a long time since I have reacquainted myself with Dewey. As I recall, I agree with him, more or less.



October 6, 2004, 1:13 AM

>"I think what you are arguing for is not that they are coterminous but that they both can be used when dealing with art. Of course they can."

I think my point is a bit stronger: experience and reflection aren't coextensive, in that they are not necessarily engaged in simultaneously, but they necessarily rely on and entail one another--they are different swings of the same pendulum.

Of course I'm speaking simply in terms of reflection, the natural action of the perceiving mind, and "analysis" as such is certainly a special case. But I think we can look at it as a formalization of the reflective process and so entirely appropriate to the task of formal criticism (the original topic here, no?).

>"analysis cannot be used to evaluate art in the absence of any specific criteria, only experience can"

Solid and specific criteria in art certainly hard to come by. I seem to recall Doc Betancourt badgering you in particular around these parts for the specific criteria on which you base your judgements (please correct me if I'm remembering this incorrectly). I think I agree with you that experience is the measure of aesthetic judgement. Criteria can arise organically from experience, past and present, and the establishment of criteria is often difficult to distinguish from the act of judgement itself. Does this mean that this is not "analysis"? I don't think it does, but perhaps were defining the term differently.

>"I do think that I would take issue with your statement 'Experience begets analysis/reflection, and analysis informs experience'... analysis, although it can affect what we make of experience, cannot affect experience itself. Experience, as such, is only experience."

But this is the crucial point, namely that thought is integral to experience. "Bare experience" as such, separate as it were from thought, does not exist. Thought is an organizing and form-giving force, that which makes experience a discrete experience.

To oversimplify from distant memory (it's been some time since I've read it), in Dewey undergoing and doing represent the passive and active poles (respectively) within any experience. Each experience is shaped and endowed with meaning, indeed is carried forward as an experience, in conjunction with our full storehouse of previous experiences, as well as our reactions and expectations in the present.



October 6, 2004, 1:50 AM

But now you are using the word "relection", which is yet another word describing yet another habit of mind, and saying that "thought" is "integral to experience". Fine, OK. I think we are confusing words with what happens in our heads. Myriad mental gyrations go on all the time in everything we do. All I am doing here is making a plea for clarity of definition. "Experience" is not the same as "analysis", or "thought" or "reflection". That they are similar or related or work together or not is all beside the point.

"Solid and specific criteria" are not "hard to come by" for judging art, they do not exist. I hesitate to get into this again because it caused such a massive overreaction a month or two ago, Dr. B and all, and degenerated into a chaotic mess. We do not use criteria to judge art. We do not stand in front of art and ask ourselves if it fits a list of requirements, (with the obvious and trivial excepion that we may "like it"). The whole point of art, what makes it art, is that it asks us to experience it without criteria, by our pure judgement, by experience. Everyone does this constantly as a matter of course. It is demonstrated in practice a thousand times a day, yet saying it, for some peculiar reason, provokes the most unrestrained, violent reactions imaginable, or has, on this blog, at least. I don't get it, and I should know better than to get into it.

Sorry, these discussions always start simple and end diffuse as all hell. Maybe I should go read Dewey.



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