Education has always been a privilege. It should be a right, but it’s not—at least, not yet. A quick glimpse at the history of education will show us that, in the past, it was given exclusively to male heirs of the wealthy to train them in medicine, law, and religious doctrines. The working class could not access education, partly because of the cost, but mostly due to the fact that they do not have the luxury of time to spare outside the workforce. They could not study because they had to prioritize working to put food on their tables. To add to this, there was racial discrimination and sexism. Women were not allowed to study because they were only expected to stay at home and handle the household. If they were allowed to pursue careers, it would be in vocational courses, such as dressmaking. To generalize, an educated person in the past was a rich, white, male. In the context of the Philippines, it was a wealthy mestizo.
The same is true for the study of art. For centuries, it has been limited only to the educated and the wealthy. When art was introduced to the educational system, it was mostly only limited to the enhancement of the skill. Eventually, most prominently in the late 1800s, critical thinking and interpretation were considered as important factors in art education. By then, scholars not only looked at art, but they also studied, interpreted, and transcribed the experience of it. For centuries, there was a greater sum of laborers, not thinkers. People were forced to work, not think. There was no room for thought, let alone for criticism and proper discourse between the classes and the sexes. Only the privileged could think, granting them power to decide what is wrong from right. In the perspective of art, the privileged decided on what to look at, how to look at art, and more importantly, how to interpret and criticize it.
Nowadays, the circumstances have progressed a little bit, as both men and women are given equal access to education. Education is still primarily for those who can afford it, but with the development of technology, everything has been widely accessible, including education and, more so, art. In this digital age, almost everyone has smartphones. With one click, a user can view any painting, watch any film, and listen to any music. With another click, s/he can read what it’s about, the different reviews on it, its history, significance, and basically almost everything about everything. Freedom of information eventually leads to freedom of the mind. Now that information is accessible, there is more room for opinions, especially when it comes to art. A.O. Scott says in Better Living Through Criticism that,
“…the universal capacity of our species—to find fault. And also to bestow praise. To judge. That’s the bedrock of criticism.”(Scott 2016, p.10)
We are intellectual and, therefore, judgmental beings, whether immersed in the educational system or not. Technology has provided us an avenue for expressing our thoughts. We have become more courageous with our opinions because we are equipped with knowledge that we can so easily get. There is a downside of this influx, however. Scott further states that,
“There is no room for doubt and little time for reflection as we find ourselves buffeted by a barrage of sensations and a flood of opinion.”(Scott, 2016, p.12)
With everyone having a say in everything, and with all these opinions publicly expressed, consumers of mass media will end up trying to digest so much, leaving them without thoughts of their own. What is worse than this is that they will try to digest as much information as they could by scanning quickly, without diving into the details. This is a nightmare, not just for critics, but to any individual who wishes for her/his work to be taken seriously and not just be “passed by”. A work of art is made with passion, skill, and awareness towards political, social, and personal surroundings. Beyond being seen, it is also experienced and studied because it holds a great deal of value beyond the physical aspect. With the experience of art comes the freedom of the mind to a multitude of thoughts and emotions. And, as Scott pleasantly put it, “it is the task of criticism to figure out what to do with that freedom” (Scott, 2016, p.13).
Criticism, as the great Pauline Kael worded it, “is written by the use of intelligence, talent, taste, emotion, education, imagination, and discrimination” (Kael, 1994, p.231) However, at the age of information overload, where fast facts are the preference, people have several tendencies towards handling information such as criticism. The first tendency is that the consumers will just take the collective opinion and adapt it as their own. Say, for a new film, people would quickly scour the internet for movie reviews. If you notice the layout of most of the review sites, they are in a format wherein one could only see the summary first or the first couple of sentences, plus the “star rating”. If the viewer wants to read more, that is the only time they can choose to expand the review to see the rest of the article. This is because people prefer fast facts. They want information instantly such that they end up not thinking anymore, but just consuming. If they see that the majority of the reviewers like the movie, they decide instantly to see it. They do not bother asking the question “Why?”. The collective opinion matters so much that if a minority disagrees with this, they end up being “cancelled” or dismissed. The mob mentality is too strong that individual opinions that are unique or thoroughly processed are rare. This leads me to the discussion of the second tendency of people, which is to choose the convenient opinion, one that is not that difficult to read.
In the context of the Philippines, we Filipinos are not exactly leading globally when it comes to reading comprehension. We are, of course, not alone in this. But, this signifies that the greater majority choose to just let information pass by their eyes and they are not really inclined to process it. Good criticism is rich in information and discernment. It is filled with educational quality references and associations. Back in the olden days, when only the privileged examined art, most people would turn away from art because they regard it as elitist. They could not understand it because they were not taught how. I would say that there is not much difference with our circumstances nowadays because most people refuse to discuss art because they regard it as something that is way past their understanding. They would settle for more simple and short criticisms simply because they are more convenient. There is little to no push for a higher regard to the importance of understanding art because, until now, it is still considered as a privilege. This is a challenge for modern day critics—how can people be encouraged to read past the simple one-liner judgements? How can they be driven to want more? In the age where everything you need to know is being fed to you, how can one be encouraged to question further what one is consuming?
This is where education plays a large role. Scott says,
“That everyone is a critic means, or should mean, that we are each of us capable of thinking against our own prejudices, of balancing skepticism with open-mindedness, of sharpening our dulled and glutted senses and battling the intellectual inertia that surrounds us.”(Scott, 2016, p.13)
It is easy to express an opinion, but it takes a whole lot of effort to express a knowledgeable one. Idealistic as this may seem, when everyone is given access to education wherein they are encouraged to be open-minded towards different understandings of art, they will be able to produce opinions that will help in the deconstruction, exploration, and enhancement of its experience.
“Part of me wants to reach those who aren’t so cinephillic, to try and spread enthusiasm for movies that may not otherwise get their deserved attention.”(Cook, 2013, p.7)
Good criticism does not just inform, it opens up doors for a greater appreciation, and even improvement, of art. A work of art itself is a piece of criticism, according to Scott (Scott, 2016, p. 18). Art does not just exist, it evolves. It changes according to the taste and preferences of each generation. It is also influenced socially and politically. Say, for example, movie remakes. A lot of people have been commenting that there are far too much movie remakes nowadays. The previous generations are angered because they do not like the classics or “originals” being touched.
“Imitation is not the erosion of originality; it is the condition of originality.”(Scott, 2016, p.20)
If one dives further, these remakes are products of criticism from the past and current generations. Some films, for instance, are being remade because they contain racism or discriminatory content that are highly unacceptable in today’s society which, thankfully, is beginning to not tolerate any form of discrimination. Movements for diversity and inclusivity for women and difference races are also being pushed, especially in the film industry. Nowadays, we have females being shown as “badass” characters, playing roles and doing stunts that only men did in the olden films. This is because a generation criticized those old works as not depicting the fullness and realness of what women are and what they can do. The minority is screaming loudly for its rights, and what used to be the majority is being forced to listen, despite their ignorance.
“Every writer is a reader, every musician is a listener, driven by a desire to imitate, to correct, to improve, or to answer models before them.”(Scott, 2016, p.19)
These movements of revising art forms are products of criticism of the old art which depicted life in older lenses. Artists are listening to their critics and changing the mistakes of their predecessors. The new art, which is a product of its own time, should also portray life according to its current lenses. There is a huge backlash and resistance, however, in this process of transforming art because some consumers of the old art are stuck in their principles from the past. Sadly, some of the members of the newer generations were also influenced to think via these old principles. The irony is, each generation criticizes art to the point of its transformation. But the generation who brought about changes are also the most resistant to the art’s new evolution. Criticism has evolved far from how it used to be. At this day and age, there is already a space for everyone to criticize art. There are also spaces for everyone to view each other’s opinions on art. This way, we influence one another. With the movement toward more accessible education for all, sooner or later the majority will be more motivated to refine their opinions and become better critics. And given that the consequence of criticism is change, the question is, are we ready to accept this change? Can we, as critics, accept the challenge to experience art through a new generation’s lens?
Carlton, Genevieve. “A History Of Privilege In Higher Education | Bestcolleges”. Bestcolleges.Com, 2020, https://www.bestcolleges.com/blog/history-privilege-higher-education/.
“Film Criticism: The Next Generation”. XXXVIII, no. 2, Cineaste Magazine, 2013, https://www.cineaste.com/spring2013/film-criticism-the-next-generation. Accessed 27 Sept 2020.
Kael, P. (1994). I Lost It at the Movies: Film Writings, 1954-1965. Marion Boyars Publishers.
Scott. A.O. (2016). Better Living Through Criticism: How to Think About Art, Pleasure, Beauty, and Truth. Penguin Books.
Starkey, Joy. “History Of Art: A Degree For The Elite?”. The Guardian, 2013, https://www.theguardian.com/education/2013/jan/09/history-of-art-a-degree-for-the-elite.