Liz Rugg is the Community Manager over at Destructoid's sister site; Flixist! She also works full time as a receptionist at an animal hospital in Chicago, IL. She is tough as nails and soft as a kitten. She loves videogames almost as much as she loves animals, with a special penchant for indie and art games!
What exactly IS art criticism? Can one opinion be ethically lifted above another? Do value judgements even have a place within criticism? Aesthetician Marcia Eaton says that art criticism "invites people to pay attention to special things" and that "critics point to things that can be perceived and at the same time direct our perceptions," but is it really that harmless?
In Terry Barrett's book Why Is That Art? Aesthetics and Criticism of Contemporary Art, he asserts that art criticism is "informed discourse about art to increase understanding and appreciation." Discourse of course means talking, writing, a sort of overall dialog about a subject. Informed is really the key qualifier here, stating that criticism must have at its base a foundation of knowledge and experience, and that this is what distinguishes it from uninformed opinions.
Barrett goes on to explain art criticism as bound to the following four criteria:
A description of the work is pretty self-explanatory and virtually always necessary. The critic's interpretation of the work is when the critic tries to make sense of it in relation to its contexts - within a body of works, within a show, within art history, within a culture, etc. The critic draws conclusions about what the work means and is not only based off of what it alone is/does, but its place within a greater context.
The second two criteria is where things start to get a little hazy.
Barrett describes judgement as "an appraisal of how good something is." According to Barrett, this will contain an appraisal of value and reasoning behind that appraisal which is based on identified or implied criteria. Theorizing is when the critic tries to pull together all of the first three segments into one to try and build a cohesive framework of thoughts about the work.
And so of course, the question of value comes into play. Determining the value of something is often thought of as a matter of opinion, and this is viewed as a negativity, as perhaps a bias at times. Clement Greenberg, the foremost authority on the Modernist art movement stated that "the first obligation of an art critic is to deliver value judgements." Despite what you may think of Greenbergian politics, this is quite an inflammatory statement! Greenberg goes on to say "You can't get around without value judgements. People who don't make value judgements are dullards. Having an opinion is central to being interesting, unless you're a child."
So. What does all of this have to do with video games? Well, I think video game reviews and such ought to be read and understood with these ideas in mind. Video games are such a heavily experiential medium, as they employ so many of our senses at once. This can lead to very passionate feelings of attraction or repulsion from these experiences. We need someone to make informed value judgements somewhere in this messy sea of empirical opinion. Of course I am not advocating that everyone has to believe anything a reviewer tells them, just that it can give you a great starting point from which to enter a game, or movie, or sculpture, or painting for yourself.
Keeping someone else's thoughts in mind while comparing and contrasting them with your own is where we begin to have one of the most valuable byproducts of all art forms - enlightened discourse.
I would like to end this with a question that I am still curious about: If we have this multifaceted system with which to criticize (see the four criteria Barrett lays out) is there one (or more than one?) that are more important than the others? I.e. Do you think there is a hierarchy within these four ideas? I'd love to know your thoughts and thanks for reading!!!!!!! :D