I don’t have a lot of time right now, but I wanted to toss up a quick post about the thread below about D00d music. As usual when I write about music and my opinions of it, there is, shall we say, a bit of touchiness in the comments. There are two major categories of touchiness I’ve determined over the years when this comes up: 1) People who simply say, “How dare you offer an aesthetic opinion, you Nazi?” and 2) people who demand an objective, empirical standard for aesthetic choices in music. In this case, a request was made for an empirically established proof of why one song rocks and one doesn’t. Music draws down this kind of stuff more than pretty much any other discussion of the creative arts, with maybe an exception for fashion. I’m sure you fine people can come up with theories why, because I don’t have time to offer my own.
I do want to address #2, the demands for objective measures of quality in art. I say “art” and not “pop music”, which is a narrow form of art, because I want to highlight why that’s a problem. In liberal circles, you rarely hear people demanding an objective, definitive rule to tell a good painting from a bad painting. But I want to point out that this ceases to be true when you step outside of certain circles. Though it’s less true all the time, you definitely have conservatives resorting to demands for empirical proof of quality of fine art, especially when it comes to modern art. At its most base is people arguing that Thomas Kinkaide is a better artist than, say, Mark Rothko, because Kinkaide’s pictures clear what they assume is some objective standard of looking closer to some visual reality. And Rothko paints squares. Or you hear people complain that Jackson Pollack isn’t a real artist because he flings paint around, which a 5-year-old could do. I’m bringing up extreme examples to show why this is a silly discussion. There is space between saying that beauty is subjective and saying it has to be objective or one cannot have an informed opinion about it. Now, I realize that conservative issuing these arguments are often not arguing in good faith, whereas the people asking this question in comments may have been. But that it’s a bad question is why conservatives rely on it to get their way (which is to attack intellectuals and public funding so that art is accessible to everyone). The bad question sends people on a wild goose chase, instead of discussing the real issue at hand (which is why it’s good to make art affordable and accessible to everyone).
For more on conservatives being massive anti-art assholes, check out some recent blogging by Roy Edroso about wingnuts pulling the “that’s not real art!” card to attack art that they simply don’t like because of political reasons.
One more thought. This whole discussion made me think about a debate that often goes on about why there aren’t more female critics. This is true in many fields, but it’s really brutal when it comes to rock criticism, which dominated by men to an outrageous degree, especially when you consider how many fans are women. And my feeling is that it’s because women are socialized in a way men aren’t to be unsure of their opinions unless they can “prove” them. This is echoed throughout society, starting with the way that women’s experiences are usually claimed to be lies until they offer photographic proof, and some times not even then. To have an opinion on aesthetics is to often be told you’re wrong, and to handle that and keep plugging requires a confidence in one’s self that is considered unladylike. Which isn’t to say that I’m accusing anyone who scolds me for having opinions on music of being sexist. I’m sure they’d do it to a man. But what a man and woman hear, based on their socialization, is way different when someone says, “You snooty hipster, how dare you think you have a right to offer an aesthetic judgment!” A man is conditioned to hear, “Yak yak I’m defensive because I have bad taste,” or at least, “Argue with me!” A woman is conditioned to hear, “You are a bad person, and you need to go sit in the corner until you learn to be better at validating others.” Which is why so few go into criticism, and the ones who do have to unlearn their female training and start to think more like men are trained to think.
But seriously, feel free to tell me off. I think of myself as someone who has put a lot of time and effort into unlearning my female training and to start thinking like a man about this. I’m 33 years old, and have been full of opinions since adolescence. I suffered a lot in my youth from dudes pulling penis rank on me in these debates, but now I hold my own very well, thank you very much. This isn’t a pity party for me or meant in any way, shape, or form to shame anyone about telling me that I should shut up about my opinions. I honestly don’t care. I just wanted to point out that getting to this point was specifically about unlearning female socialization, and that female socialization is why so few women get into criticism. You have to spend that many more years getting over it than men, and by the time you do, they are far more advanced in their careers than you.