I’m currently helping to shortlist submissions for a local short film festival. Watching films and having to instantly mark them out of ten has thrown the odd processes of the art appreciating part of my brain into the light. I constantly worry that I rate everything too highly, and then try to force myself to be less lenient in my opinions. The reason is that while I enjoy debating with the other jurors, my final judgement is made with one simple criterion in mind: is it worth the audience’s time?
I’ve been in the audience of enough short film showings to know how long (or short) a film can be before it outstays its welcome. I feel it’s an immense privilege to be able to see all these wonderful works that I would otherwise never hear of, and I owe it to the potential audience members to select a programme that is worth every minute they spend looking at the screen.
At the moment, my writing on art (such as films, books, and television) is only a hobby. And as such, I prefer to spend my spare time talking about things I like. However, learning to be harsh on bad films as well as rhapsodising about good ones has revealed something to me about why I love the arts, why I love good criticism and why bad criticism pains me so much.
A critic’s job is to offer his opinion, when possible backed up by a degree of knowledge in their chosen field. It offers a chance to show people something magical, to explain the response it provoked in them and bring the most subjective of responses to the outside world, and offer a chance for people to share a communal experience in appreciation of a creative work.
Whether criticism is good or bad depends not on positive or negative attitudes to an individual work of art, but on the critic’s attitude towards their job. A high-handed or self-satisfied approach to the act of criticism can result in the critic judging the people who disagree with the critic’s opinion, rather than the work itself.
I want to be unflinchingly honest in my writing. I want to warn people off bad things as well as recommend good things. But I never want to be the kind of person, whether famous or obscure, who mocks and tears down other people for the opinions they hold. We identify ourselves by the art we love, and a good critic should always forgo personal insults in favour of a genuine airing of their emotional and intellectual reactions to art.
Because I feel that, in the end, it’s the greatest privilege to have the chance to introduce someone to a book, or film, or something else that changes the way they see the world. Short of creating art myself, there’s nothing that brings me more satisfaction.