Does Art have to be controversial to be real Art? When does Art slip into Performance and Entertainment? When does Criticism become irrelevant? The purpose of these questions is to tease out answers that hopefully will lead to a better understanding of Art.
As long as there has been Artists there have been Critics. But there are other players besides these two players. In addition to Artists and Critics, there are Consumers and Reviewers that appreciate the Art. Each contributes to a delicate ecology.
Artists are driven by the need to create Art. At times, Artists will seek feedback on what they create and sometimes that seeking will lead them to simply become Performers. As Performers they derive their feedback in the form of money, ticket sales, fame, etc. For a Performer the Art becomes a means to Performance and at the highest levels, the Performance becomes the Art itself (Cirque du Soleil is prime example of this).
Performers and Consumers have thus created a balanced ecology. If the Performers give they Consumers what they want (a good performance or Entertainment), the Consumers will give the Performers what they want (money, accolades). The Art itself becomes a product that is essentially traded at concerts, stores, galleries, etc.
This is how most of the modern entertainment industry works – everything from books, music, movies, theater, television, and video games are governed by this ecology.
Now this system is working well. The problem is that there is such an abundance of entertainment, it becomes difficult for people to decide what they will do next and where to spend their dollars and time. This is where the role of Reviewers and Critics come in.
Reviewers are Consumers like me. I am sharing my personal opinion on what I read, listen to, etc. If you like what I recommend, you will come back and ask for more. You may also share with me stuff you think I may like. It is pretty egalitarian since everyone has an opinion. And it is also pretty meritocratic, each of us are rewarded with people saying they like the same things which is a form of validation.
Critics see themselves as filling the niche by keeping the Artist honest since they see most feedback as vapid or blind. In contrast, Reviewers see themselves are sharing their opinions about they like and do not like. Both are based on personal opinion, but the Critic sees himself as defending the Art, much like a Park Ranger is responsible for animals on a wildlife reserve. There is a self-perceived higher purpose to the Critic.
Defending Art is the purpose of the Critic. That is why they are so down on the Entertainment industry. They see Art as being devolved into its baser aspects, sort of like seeing a majestic animal being caged and put in a circus. They also see themselves as defending the species by keeping it pure – We don’t want any mongrels here!
Critics see Art as representing special insight into the human spirit. It is Art is what makes humans a unique species. Art is communication on a deeper level. Art is about controversy and making us uncomfortable in contrast to Entertainment which is about providing fun and good times. So for a Critic, Art at its best is about touching something deeper and controversy is a symptom of this.
When the Artist keeps recycling old ideas and does not grow in terms of artistic range, then they simply become Performers and the Art then becomes Entertainment. The Critics will criticize the Artist for this lack of bravery and the Reviewers will simply share their opinions, but the Fans will be spitting fury at the Critics.
And it is at this point that Critics are irrelevant. The Fan and the Critic are at two different perspectives, both valid. The Critic should not be criticizing an Artist turned Performer for doing what they do. The idealism of the Critic puts him out of touch with the pragmatism of Fans and Performers.
After all, the purpose of Entertainment is to entertain. Sharing an angst-ridden message of revelation is meaningless to somebody who is looking for a good time. That is why more obscure Artists will never find a larger following and why most Performers will never receive the positive opinion of Critics. They are talking different languages and belong in different ecological niches.
Like any healthy ecology, there needs to be respect and tolerance of each other’s roles. Giving too much control to one will destroy the ecological balance that makes up Art.