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  • Aishath Aboobakr

#Opinion - On the Role of the Critic

A house in Male - credit unknown.

To step back and take the world into account, that’s the lot of the critic.

Now imagine a life that is lived to judge experiences, whether for pleasure and/or for compensation. It means forcing yourself to be present in a situation, to engage with works with a fresh perspective, hopefully, and perhaps be playful in your presentation, to discern some facet of the artist that only you can bring to light.

The reviewer is thus always conscious of his experience as being an experience as well as one that requires judgment.

I will refrain from enumerating the effects of great art, but good art must appeal intensely to either the head or the heart.

But what about art on a purely aesthetic level, without the baggage of a message or intent? Then it seeks to seduce with sensuality. It is free of obvious symbolism and offers liberty to viewers to engage with on a deeply personal level. It displays a mastery of narrative. It would display an artist acquainted with and surpassing the visual culture of their time. It is the lot of the reviewer to judge how far the artist has succeeded in this aim.

The reviewer though, if a champion of art, must engage with the object of review many times over if they are to experience it in its totality. The analytical toolkit for appraising art that rushes to the fore is not for those who want to experience art without an ulterior motive. This is not to say the analytical critic’s enterprise is doomed from the start – they may point out deficiencies in technique, execution, and meaning with good reason.

But the experience of art should command attention solely to itself with the promise of transcendence and be sufficient for the task. Art that espouses the spirit of the times is fated to be caged by it though art that seeks instead to communicate internal truths would likely have a longer shelf life. For investigations into the human condition and identity would reveal points of contact with other people, and be an expression of shared experiences rather than points of divergence. It would bring us together even in utter cacophony.



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