Hi I’m Kieran, I run the site and write the shite. I start this website now in August 2016 shortly after graduating from university. I wanted to create somewhere where I could write, voice my shoddy opinions and develop the skills involved with both. It’s hard to say what this website will be and how long I’ll continue to use it for but right now, what with the plentiful downtime that comes with post graduate blues and the fact it’s something I enjoy doing, I foresee this primarily acting as a review site.
To that end, I wanted to kick things off with a discussion of critique itself and the place of reviews in modern culture. As time has gone on the predicament of leisure time has become more and more apparent, due in large part to its increased abundance in the digital age. In the past you could justifiably define yourself through your work since it took up most of your time and was your primary means of contributing to society. You could take pride in the production of your labour, or the quality of your service, knowing that you contributed in your own individual way. Today that’s becoming less common since more jobs are becoming obsolete and increasingly arbitrary. It’s hard to take pride in the work you do in an age where you know either a machine could do it better or, thanks to the internet, that your work is not unique. Even writing this now I have to concede that it’s likely of no interest to anyone but myself, which can be somewhat disheartening. The overwhelming trend that I see in recent decades, is of people defining themselves, or they’re individuality, through their cultural tastes.
People dissatisfied with their work increasingly seem to consider it a means to the freedoms promoted by money. It is in their free time that they can express and enjoy themselves. The issue that this presents is that where rewarding work was given, what you do in your free time must be chosen. Where peoples choices and ambitions in the past may have lain in work, now they lie in pursuits of entertainment. Who you are is now more a question of your interests than what you do. And where there is an entry requirement for what you can do there is not for what you can be interested in. Interests can be cultivated or lied about, effectively we can for the most part choose who we want to be. While this greater degree of freedom in our identity might sound positive, it bears with it a lot of stress. The introspection that comes along with trying to decipher what we want can be overwhelming. Instead it can be a lot easier to be passive and attach yourself to preexisting identities that are popular and inoffensive in society. Take this too far though, and the loss of your individual sense of identity can lead to feeling unfulfilled. Like all things, its about finding the balance that suits you. Most people do this by attaching themselves to what they consider niche communities. The more niche, the more unique, the more identifiable, the greater sense of individuality.
People with a keener sense of their own interests or ways to appeal to others, may actually set their own work to create content. While this has always been the case, now with the dawn of the internet, everyone has the potential to be heard. The flood of noise that has come with that has rapidly pushed the boundaries of acceptability and has created increasingly numerous and strong niche communities. This has made things hard for those seeking to access what they consider quality content, or alternatively to attach themselves to subcultures that they think might garner them social presence. Judging which content is worthwhile has become work in itself. To alleviate this we have reviews, which should fulfill two functions:
- be a reliable source of recommendations for a certain audience
- be interesting content in its own right
The first point is tricky, a review like any piece of writing is a conversation between the writer and the reader. If the writer deliberately panders to the tastes of their readership then the conversation is circular and boring. It leaves no room for seeking out the new and exciting. If this becomes the norm then we begin to see repeating trends in the media until their stagnation becomes unavoidable. (See call of duty, remakes, reboots, the homogeneity of chart music, etc.) This is a predicament because without pandering to your audience there’s no way to ensure that your opinion will be in line with theirs, and so you run the risk of being an unreliable reccomender.
This is precisely why a review is more than a number and why the second bullet point is required. While there is no way of ensuring the trust of your audience, any good piece of critique should present your point persuasively. A good review is one that demonstrates that the reviewer engaged with the artwork and hence the artist that made it. In the same way the review acts a conversation with its reader, so too should the reviewer have conversed with the artist under review. The reviewers part is to open up that conversation with their reader so that the ideas that the original artwork posed can be fully explored. The reviewer’s part as middle man is not redundant so long as they are good at what they do. If they are insightful then they lend a second perspective to the piece, which has a chance of opening up the ideas behind the artwork in question. In fact any ideas relating to the artwork can be explored, though most prominent are intention, societal context and craft. This is precisely why it is not uncommon to read reviews of content you have already experienced. In this way reading reviews is more than looking for validation (though that is certainly an important and worthy part of it).
While a review might be greater than a simple recommendation, that aspect of it is still an integral part. The expedience that reliable reviewers can provide is what makes them useful. To this end I will not be using number rating systems but I can see myself doing numbered lists of my favourite pieces of comparable content. I also plan to begin each review with whether I’d recommend the content and under what circumstances.
To summarise in order for me to consider a review good it would have to:
- Engage with the artwork in question and meet it on its own terms
- Present and explore ideas relating to the artwork that may not be immediately obvious
- Actually be entertaining to read itself (still very much working this one out as you can tell from this)
- Be honest about biases
- Be clear in its recommendation or lack thereof without being overly reductionist
Hopefully I’ll be able to hold anything I write in the future up to this criteria, I guess we’ll see. For now I just hope the website doesn’t end here with this first, lackluster post and who knows, that maybe someone’ll even read this.