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Can Criticism Be Considered Art?

Can criticism be considered art? Of course not, Craig Seligman argues initially in his new book "Sontag & Kael: Opposites Attract Me", quoting John Updike by saying "the artist sails in the open sea, while the critic hangs back, hugging the shore." In his book Seligman investigates the influence of Susan Sontag and Pauline Kael, two famous female writers on film (and in Sontag's case a universe of other topics). Sontag, whose "elitist" thinking he dislikes but whom he admires for her enormous scope, doesn't think criticism can in any way be considered art. Seligman agrees: "To promote criticism as an art is to betray the purposes of criticism." Kael thought differently and said it flatly in a 1963 broadcast: "I regard criticism as an art."

Seligman tries to convey that criticism has its constraints. The critic's gaze has to remain focused on the work of art, he writes, and this willingness to place one's talent, one's ego, at the service of the artwork is central to any decent criticism.

But he doesn't leave the matter there. In the final chapter he zooms in on Kael and admits that "what she left behind is not merely a body of criticism but a body of literature: one of the signal literary achievements of the second half of the twentieth century. She didn't just point out the flaws in the films she wrote about. She plastered the cracks and plugged the leaks; she gave them the elegance and symmetry they lacked; she turned them into what they could have been. When I read Kael now, the pictures she wrote about seem like footnotes to her work. And she pulled it all off within the ludicrous confines of movie reviewing."

So the question remains: Can criticism be considered art?

Belinda van de Graaf

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Criticism as Art

Ronald Bergan
Hassouna Mansouri
Bence Nanay