Monday, July 26, 2010

George Hrab.... difficult to critique

So in my perusing of the internet I've come across a skeptic/podcaster/musician by the name of George Hrab. His podcast, Geologic is bizarre and entertaining and has little or nothing to do with geology.

George has recently released an album called Trebuchet which is available on Itunes, at CDbaby and very conveniently as one of his podcast episodes. I encourage you to give it a listen.

The album definitely has a skeptical bent and a comedic feel to it but I have run into a terrible block as I try to critique it and discuss it here: I don't like it. I don't have a good reason for my distaste for it. I can't even put into words why I would have Johnathan Coulton's babies and Hrab doesn't even raise my blood pressure. I don't know enough about music to comment meaningfully on the skill of the artist in that regard. The lyrics seem fine enough but they don't catch me so I'm unwilling to invest the time to really analyze them so I find myself with a problem. I can't give meaningful critique to something I don't personally like. So instead, I'll criticise criticism.

In my opinion, good criticism requires good skepticism. A critique should be able to isolate variables and take the piece being examined on using clearly defined criteria and to eliminate bias as much as possible. In my experience, this is not at all how art is critiqued.

Most movie review, musical opinions and artistic critiques that I've encountered are based on post hoc rationalizations. That is, the critic feels something about what they are seeing or hearing and then comes up with reasons for their feelings after the fact.

I point you to two very disparate movie reviewers for evidence: The famed Roger Ebert has a ton of short reviews on the Chicago Sun-Times; Next there is Movie Bob who has some more comedic ones on The Escapist. I'd like you to pay attention to their respective A-team reviews. It's a pretty successful summer action flick and from the reviews, it's like there are two different movies. Ebert clearly hated it and Bob clearly loved it. What comes after that is their justification of their feelings. Both have compelling arguments for why they think the movie is good/bad but they can't both be right can they?

Obviously human opinion varies and people are going to have their own ideas about what makes something good or bad. My argument is that if you're going to critique something (especially professionally) you should be honest about it. State clearly what is based on your personal feelings and what is objective analysis. Realize that your feelings are influencing your reasoning and account for that.

I want to see Ebert to a review that goes something like this:

The cinematography was well done, though fairly typical for a film of this genre. The score was well composed and fit the piece extremely well. There were some extremely creative uses of prostheses and make up which could inform the practices of the rest of the industry. The story was well composed and was carried well by the script. The performances by all of the actors was exemplary, conveying believable emotion and giving character to each role. I hated every minute of it and would have rather have spent that ninety minutes doing differential calculus while salt was being poured on my open wounds.

Why do I think this is better that what we get? Because it clearly admits the feelings of the critic and reviews the movie based on its merits anyway. Can this be done fairly and regularly by humans? Probably not. Would the reviews be more entertaining and marketable if they did? Almost deffinitely not.

Oh well.

Good luck with your album George. Hopefully I'm in the minority.

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