Wednesday, March 30, 2011
Fantastic out of 10
Observe the above painting. It's from Claude Monet's Houses of Parliament series. How good of a painting is it? Now, we aren't seeing the painting in the flesh in front of our faces, so our judgment is a little disjointed as is. Additionally, since we are seeing one painting from a series, it lacks a context, so we don't know whether this is a darker lighter mooded piece in comparison to its peer pieces. It portrays a, well, House of Parliament, erected against the overhanging setting sun. The sun reflects off the body of water in the foreground, and this reflection is portrayed in brilliant colors. The remaining sky seems to be an apathetic blue being under the negative influence of some clouds at a juxtaposition, and the base of the edifice is obscured and not illuminated. The impressionist painting has some very efforted brushstrokes and is given a texture that does wonders for the water in the foreground and takes away from the looming structure on the coastal landscape.
So what did we decide about the painting?
Art, in all of its forms and fashions, is created, usually, for the consumer. Therapeutic effects and personal satisfaction aside, art is created to observe. This observation can be through seeing, hearing, touching, or even smelling and tasting. This is called perception. As consumers, we have this fucked up tendency to perceive beyond what is there to percept. Along with perceiving art, we interpret art. We take what we see or hear and we put a context to it. That's why some people like certain things more than others.
All of this is "duh" shit so far, so it's about time I get to a point.
What's a good movie? What's a good album? Better yet, what makes it good?
Despite what we may believe, this isn't really an arbitrary thing. Some people like loud music, some people like soft music, some people like stupid movies, some people like action movies, some people hate movies where shit doesn't blow up (can't blame 'em; shit blowin' up is tight). Yeah, there's general trends to what makes something a quality production, but there's also so much to interpret and apply to one's own personal taste. It's art. If you like it, I might think it sucks. And that's fine, so long as I'm not a dick about it.
That's what I hate about Pitchfork. Pitchfork, popular douchey pretentious music website, makes its best effort to review like every album ever. Which is great, but the fact that there is one site that rates every album they can means that there's a standard. There's a status quo that music, an interpretive art, has to live up to. When I read a Pitchfork review, the thing that jumps out at me is the big red number that arbitrarily gives value to something that may mean the world to someone. Is The People's Key (Bright Eyes' latest album) the best album you've ever heard? Hm, nope! 5.0. This means Radiohead's Kid A was twice as good. Wait, you don't like Radiohead's sound? Well, you're wrong. Conor Oberst's lyrics are bad. No they aren't poetic, if you think that you're stupid. Things like these are what reviews tell us.
In journalism you're supposed to show and not tell. In giving a movie review, you can say "this scene was poorly shot" or "the acting was sub-par and lacked the proper emotion." In a music review, you can't really tell without showing. In other words, you just say "that synth part sucked" or "Oberst's voice sounds like a violin played with a cob of corn." So sites/magazines like Pitchfork really are just spewing their opinions, treating them as fact and playing God of good taste. It's stupid. Isn't it stupid guys? It's pretty stupid.
Now, if an album is especially awful, or fantastically great, it deserves some notoriety, and it's up to media outlets to create that. And I guess I'm not even mad about the reviewing process. The thing that pisses me off most is the large red number. The deciding factor, what it all comes down to. A surprisingly high 7.0 is the same as a disappointingly low 7.0, and a shitty Radiohead album will still beat out a good Bright Eyes album every time.
Pitchfork has been hated on plenty by pretty much everyone, but they can't be blamed for doing what they're doing. The people love it. I can't remember the last time I anticipated an album and didn't check what score Pitchfork gave it, just for kicks. Out of stupid blind habit. They make some good points about all the albums they review (usually), but give them context that the average fan won't experience. For example, on the paragraph about how Kanye West's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (which looks just decadent when italicized), Pitchfork went on and on about Kanye's horrible public persona, the emotional personal struggle he went through overcoming the despise of the American people, which is, by all means, critical to understanding why Kanye made the album what it was, but, other than some spare lyrics here or there, it isn't what the fuck the album is. They mention the album in one sentence – the last one. Now sure the album is a product of the context, but what about the millions who hear the music and not the motive? I don't blame someone for not giving a shit who Kanye West is. However, it's a detriment to Big Boi if his album was just, regularly just made? Like an album? Stupid.
To some it makes the album better, to others it doesn't matter. That's the point. It's different depending on which set of ears it goes into. All music is. All art is perceived differently by different people.
Video games: review 'em. They aren't quite art. Though they have artistic qualities. There are elements of gameplay, story continuity, validity and smooth production quality that separate them from pure interpretive art. Things like movies, books, music and obviously everything artier than that should be thought about and discussed, but not rated. A rating coming from a media outlet puts a template in one's head from which to interpret a work of art. If someone says something sucks, but it's actually really good, it will take a lot more to sway your opinion from what popular perception of it already is.
Do you see what I'm getting at here?
Thank you for your time.