A Defense of Reviewing

June 25, 2008 at 10:03 pm (Essays) (, )

Wherever there is art, there are reviews. Positive or negative, reviews are a topic of constant contention. The Internet has paradoxically made reviewing more anonymous and personal at the same time: a harsh review can quickly contain, or result in, a personal attack. When faced with a differing opinion, many write the entire concept of reviewing off as a foolish exercise for “would-be” artists.

Most artists who have had their art harshly critiqued at some point have thought “Who are they to review my work?” or “Why should anyone care what they think?” It’s generally easier to write a harsh review than a beaming one, particularly if one of your goals is to maintain an audience. No one wants to read positive review after positive review. Too many “four stars” and “two thumbs up” cause the reader to question a reviewer’s judgment. Besides, admit it, chances are a scathing review is going to be more entertaining than a gushy, positive one.

So the reviewer walks a fine line. Too many positive reviews and the reader will lose faith in his judgment. Too many negatives and he’ll become a hack reviewer, arrogantly striking down art. The Internet is littered with biased reviews, joke reviewers, and inflammatory opinions. Still, the best kind of review is one written from an informed standpoint, yet without a bias.

Why should anyone in the world care about someone else’s opinion? Reviews are important. No one person can hear every album ever written, view every painting, or see every movie. A good review is both a good preview and a good summary. Hopefully a review will help you know what to expect, and afterwards, help you verbalize the art you’ve already digested.

Someone else’s viewpoint can drastically alter your own perception. Just as no one person can consume every work of art, no one person can consume every detail in just one piece of art. Music lends itself greatly to discussion and review. Music is created with layers, all of which are heard differently by each listener. Some people are incapable of hearing anything but the whole product, so the guitars, vocals, and drums form one large amalgam of sound. Others focus on just one instrument. Intricacies of production are lost in highly compressed mp3s and poor speakers. A good review brings all of these delicate aspects under a lens, magnifying both the good and the bad.

In response to a negative review, it’s common to see “that reviewer probably doesn’t have a band” or “at least this band is making music and not just writing about it!” This argument doesn’t hold much water, though, because followed to its logical conclusion, it would mean no one could criticize anything unless they themselves were a master. The truth is, non-musicians know what sounds good just as well as a non-chef knows flies don’t belong in soup. Almost all music, like almost all food, is meant for consumption by many different demographics.

In the end, one review is just one review. It won’t radically change your mind or change the value of art. But it can help you express what you like and don’t like about a piece. If you’re unfamiliar with an artist, a good review can give you reference points for you to make some speedy judgments. Reviews can be easily ignored, or used to filter through the ever-expanding sea of art.

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