the rigorous m

bits and bobs, quotes and catching up

Petrusich on the scope of a critic

Posted by rigorousm on March 21, 2016

In the music-criticism courses I teach at New York University, I encourage my students to address not just the technical particularities of a song or album but also the experience of hearing it: art is measured not just by the space it takes up but by the air it moves. It is important that a critic know some things about music (history, theory, social utility), and, as with any journalistic pursuit, additional research to bolster that knowledge is paramount. But writers also need to know what they think about a record—how it moves them.

“What does it feel like, listening to this song?” I’ll ask a class, over and over. Sometimes a student will have to shift an album around in her life a little before she can really figure this part out: take it for a walk, eat dinner with it, share it with a buddy. To help, I occasionally trot out bits from Oscar Wilde’s “The Critic as Artist,” hoping to encourage the kind of honest self-inventory that good criticism requires: “That is what the highest criticism really is, the record of one’s own soul,” Wilde suggests. “It is more fascinating than history, as it is concerned simply with oneself.” Still, my students continue to fret about speaking too subjectively, of abandoning an omniscient critical voice in favor of something more vulnerable and imperfect. Some ultimately find both angles of approach far too hubristic to stomach. (Criticism, after all, is not for the meek.)

 Amanda Petrusich, “The Music Critic in the Age of the Insta-Release” for The New Yorker. 3/9/16 (link to articlelink to article)

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