Creating filtered version of banner image.

Be the Mule Blog

The Art of Critique - 2012 n Lists

 The Art of Critique, The Win of the $ - 2012 n Lists


The state of the Arts major media discourse is disappointing, if not pathetic. I was in Buenos Aires about a month ago. Forward thinking city, music happening, from people fusing Tango with traditional folkloric music to a thriving, if impoverished, jazz community. A friend remarked "people know there is no chance of making any real money from playing music, so they just play whatever they want." Out of the clubs, I found this to be true. Then I went to lunch at a local cafe and was reading the major newspaper there, the name I can't recall. I like to read the Arts section of the New York Times, about the only arts section left that passes as a full arts section, so figured I would give this Buenos Aires section a look. The cover, and first two pages, were dedicated to an English boy band. They weren't on tour or coming to town or anything, but this story was there. I can't recall the name of the band, but its the five cute kids from the UK that everyone seems to know. A piece on each one's likes and dislikes, hair styles.


 A week later I was in Mexico City. My favorite city in the world. Its constantly fascinating, its people are personal and emotive. The arts are potent and discovering there. More people are moving in, more artists coming through to perform. There is a real sense of urgency to the music and film that is happening, a bareness to it that I find exciting. It can feel like New York without the need for nostalgia.


The front page of the Arts section was the same story on the same band from the UK. Clearly they had hired an effective, and far reaching publicist. Such is taste-making in the globalized era. Its shoved everywhere, and we are supposed to care. Enough of us obviously are sold to keep it happening. Its miraculous really, from Buenos Aires to Mexico City to Kansas City, the story of these 5 boys in make up is apparently the one that represents the state of the arts, even for a day. 


Our information, and our exposure, is bought. Now is an especially fine time to consider this as "best of" lists emerge, from everywhere, as the year turns gone. Again, the uniformity in these lists is striking. The only ones I have read were in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, a list of lists published by local writers. Aside from one person, the lists of nearly everyone were the numbers 1 through 10 with a name attached to them, shaken about. Of all the music that has come out of that city. I was proud and happy to see some friends mentioned on one list, though this was quickly and clearly cast as the "jazz" list. 


Everyone in the arts hates year end lists until they start making them I think, but my point is not that a year end list is destructive, but rather the inability for any of these "critics" to choose is. Are we really all that alike? Maybe so, maybe thats why I don't live there. I dont think so. There is a fear in being seen as "different", unless that difference is sold as its own identity and has an element of hip to it, but truly difference lies only in being honest to ourselves. People have capitalized on this fear of exclusion, difference, by finding a way to make money exploiting it. "If you are part of us, and like what we like, you get to make lists and write for people and come backstage at our shows and you will have an identity in your community." Social success. Bah!


Greater significance, and consideration, in the world of critique is lost in these cases. You can find them on BLOGS, thoughtful people with nothing to lose and no money to gain, but many of us still write aching, needing, to be part of something; some gated community we hope one day we can enter and hold our chins high above the folks desperate for the acceptance we take pride in not giving them.


If you work at a major newspaper, there are few exceptions, 80 plus percent of what is chosen as worthy of writing on is paid for to be viewed that way. A critic is but a puppet in this instance.


Then there is the way we view genre. It also gives us identity. We "love" jazz, or rock, or "indie", or jambands, so we buy all that stuff, only that stuff, and think we are connected to it in a way that offers us meaningful relationships and belonging.  A "scene" coalesces around it, instilled for the benefit of a few at the top who make money through the consolidation of humans and our tastes. 


What we enjoy is all so relative, its a mockery not only our own capacity as thoughtful and considering people, but of what art can be when regarded and respected for its own statement to have such uniformity in these lists.  


The way we attach our identity to genre is an affront on possibility. It is art suffocating. Look at the lists. Sometimes rock and rap co-exist. Thats about it. Its not worth time detailing the many other approaches to sound that exist, their validity, and the fact that in time, much of what pop culture highlights will be mocked.


Greater significance in the professional world of the critique has been lost. Money and insecurity have combined to leave the common paid critic a windbag. If these people all truly enjoy all the same stuff so much, and really see it as so clearly better than everything else that has come out in such a uniform manner, I am sorry for them.


They will lose their voice and then flail to find significance in the changed world, the people's world, where we talk about things as they are. 



Here are 11 records I enjoyed, and continue to, that came out this year, among many. I just like them.  This is the list I submitted to PopMatters when asked to be part of their year end lists. I don't know if it was or will be published. In no specific order.


David Byrne and St. Vincent "Love This GIant"

Ron Miles, Bill Frisell, Brian Blade "Quiver"

Melvins Lite "Freak Puke"

Jazz Free (A Connective Improvisation) - Nels Cline, Henry Kasier, et all

Templars in Sacred Blood (John Zorn, Trevor Dunn, John Medeski, Mike Patton, Joey Baron)

Jack White "Blunderbuss"

Eddie Vedder and Natalie Maines "Golden State (Live)" - Single

Bill Laswell "Mean of Deliverance"

Brad Mehldau Trio "Ode"

Matt Chamberlain "Company 23"

Medeski, Martin and wood "Free Magic"



We got a new record coming out -  And Art n Video n Photo n all. This was taken by Mario Rodriguez. 

Be the first to respond!

Post a comment