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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.


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Thursday, November 05, 2009

entry arrow1:40 PM | On Gripes and Criticism

The renowned film critic Roger Ebert once wrote:

When Patrick Goldstein of the Los Angeles Times was critical of Rob Schnieder's Deuce Bigelow, European Gigolo, Schneider took out a full-page ads in the paper informing Goldstein was not qualified to review it--what prizes had he won? In my review, I wrote: "As chance would have it, I have won the Pulitzer Prize, and so I am qualified. Speaking in my official capacity as a Pulitzer Prize winner, Mr. Schneider, your movie sucks." Set and match.

I find this quite fascinating, given that a review of mine regarding a local photography exhibit has been garnering boiling commentary from some of the subjects of my criticism, and has basically echoed Mr. Schneider's words for Mr. Goldstein. To wit:

Whew and I thought I am the only one who felt violated by this so called "critic!" He has no credentials to speak of to be considered a credible critic period! He does not know an iota of photogrpahy so he should just stick to where he is good at (writting "fiction")!

I take that in stride.

But what credentials must one have to be an "art critic"? Must one be a full-time artist or photographer or writer or a filmmaker or dancer to be allowed to critique a painting, a photograph, a book, a film, or a dance? Mr. Ebert has won the Pulitzer for film criticism -- but has not made a single movie in his life, save for the screenplay of Russ Meyer's Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. Is he not a film critic still?

I have had photography exhibitions in Dumaguete and Cebu, although it is an art form I have chosen not to pursue full time simply because I want to devote myself to writing. I've also written about photography countless times in many publications. I write art reviews for national newspapers (including the Philippine Daily Inquirer) as well as local ones. I am the program coordinator of the Silliman University Cultural Affairs Committee. I have curated many exhibits, including ones for photography. Credentials, anyone?

To quote an artist friend who's currently doing media studies as a Ford scholar in New York (credentials man kaha!):

Those who question critics are so parochial. They think they can be better being alone or in the company of their exclusive group of photographers patting themselves in the back. But a photograph according to Susan Sontag needs an interpreter because it is a trace of a subject framed by an eye and will be seen through another's eyes.

Ah, Susan Sontag. Wait, do they know Susan Sontag? I bet not. (Come to think of it, Sontag has written the best criticism on photography -- the brilliant On Photography -- and she's not even a photographer!)

Artists, of course, must be allowed to whine about bad notices. I'd gripe, too, if somebody finds my fiction incomprehensible. Or downright bad. But the ones who move on to greatness do two things: (1) ignore the criticism and continue to do their own stuff; or (2) make the critique challenge them more, to make their art, for the lack of a better word, "better."

In the summer of 2008, a renowned fictionist critiqued my stories during a workshop, and described the ones I've written after the Palanca-winning "Old Movies" as a "disappointment." I got picqued, naturally, but was ultimately curious about his assessment.

So, learning all that I knew about good fiction, I wrote a short story shortly after that workshop, submitted it to the Palanca -- and won first place. What was ironic was that he was the chair of the board of judges for the short story.

Criticism. Take it, or leave it. But make it make you grow.

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