Frosted Poo-tee-weets
Thorstein Veblen Conspicuous Consumption Award - Trial Tactics Division


  • L.A.-centric -- Critical Theory Edition:

Perhaps no one cares anymore what the Los Angeles Times has to say on cultural issues.  Perhaps no one is much aware that the Times finally removed its pay-wall from its arts and entertainment coverage.  Whatever the reason, I am quietly surprised to find almost no weblog commentary on Sunday's article by Scott Timberg, "Critical Condition, or, The Critic Vanishes," bemoaning the diminution or disappearance of those "once almighty arbiters of American taste."

'You gets arts journalists together these days,' says Doug McLennan, editor of Arts and a longtime Seattle music writer, 'and it's what they talk about: their declining influence.  They say Frank Rich was the last critic who could close a show.'  Most remember when Time and Newsweek had full rosters of arts critics.

What happened?  Besides the Internet and its rash of blogs, suspected culprits include the culture of celebrity, anti-intellectual populism, stingy newspaper owners and what some critics say is a loss of vitality or visibility in their art forms.  While many lament the situation, some think the decentralization of authority means the arts — and the conversation around them — will flourish without these stern, doctrinaire figures.

But many newspaper and magazine critics pine for a golden age when giants walked the Earth: When the imposing Clement Greenberg was shaping modernism in painting, the biting H.L. Mencken was exhuming the reputation of Theodore Dreiser, and the impious Leslie Fiedler found unsettling Freudian meanings in the novels of Mark Twain.

It is an aggravating article in many ways, not least in the way that it meanders about in search of a credible, or at least consistent, thesis.  The piece winds up being less about a decline of Criticism in general and more about a decline of the outlets - newspapers, wide circulation magazines - that once housed it.  Some random thoughts:

  • Why cite "The Critic" -- an animated series that no one in particular actually watched and that is in any case ten years old -- as an example of the current low state of the critical field?
  • As is often the case, the best quote comes from Dave Hickey:

Dave Hickey, an art critic best known for the book 'Air Guitar: Essays on Art & Democracy,' doesn't think the Internet is the problem. 'But I do think that we're over,' he says.  "Being an art critic was one of those jobs like nighttime disk jockey or sewing machine repairman: It was a one- or two-generation job.'

For Hickey, art criticism lost its luster and excitement the same time art did.  'There was a sense that things had a forward tilt,' he says of American art after World War II, when it seemed to be moving toward a consummation.  'Jackson Pollock changed the way the world looked, Andy Warhol changed the way the world looked.'

        * * *

'I'm like Wolfman Jack,' Hickey groans.  'The times have passed me by.'

  • The problem is that the newspapers are cutting back the space and number of critics devoted to arts coverage, except for those that are expanding it.  OR the problem is that there has been a great leveling, so that all of the traditional distinctions within an art (good/bad/better/best) are now necessarily invidious.  OR the problem is that the Cold War is over, so that there is no national priority to maintaining prestige in the cultural arena.  OR the problem is that any opinion is an expression of "bias," and we can't have that now can we?  OR the problem is that darned Internet, so that no one reads anything anymore.
  • OR the Internet will be the saving of us all.  The Critics haven't gone away altogether: they have migrated from the printed page to the pixelated one, and there is still a vital and vibrant conversation going on concerning matters cultural and artistic, all day and all of the night.  Of course, this being the Los Angeles Times, the article names several examples of worthy Web sites and weblogs, but does not link them or provide URLs for the curious in either the print or online versions.  Blasted Luddites.

  • I am also reminded of the Terry Teachout-inspired discussion here last year about weblogs and their potential to serve as an early 21st Century equivalent to the so-called "little" magazines of the early 20th Century.
  • L.A.-centric -- Happy Consumerism Edition:

    escapegrace runs a compare and contrast exercise on the relative virtues of her new home in Los Angeles and her former home in New York.  I can't argue with her judgments, though I am driven to ask:

"How can New Yorkers claim to be the center of the world when their nearest Trader Joe's store is in Connecticut?"

  • Musical Notes - NYC Edition:

    Still in New York himself, George Hunka is provoked to an iconoclastic outburst:

Let’s get one thing straight: Stephen Sondheim is a writer of Broadway musicals, and even if he’s good at what he does (which he’s not, particularly) it’s a limited talent.  His lyrics rarely express anything more than a self-pity filtered through crossword-puzzle-level Ogden-Nashian punnery and cleverness, his composition style is third-rate imitation Puccini and Prokofiev -- poetry and music for people who hate poetry and music.

  • Music Notes - Beyond the Infinite Edition:

    I secreted a reference to an old Donovan lyric in an earlier post.   [Careful with that link: Mr. Leitch's site comes with much music and no apparent "mute" function.]   Now, on the occasion of the reissue of several classic Donovan recordings, Professor Althouse offers an appreciation.

These many decades on, I suppose we ought to forgive and forget that in addition to such classics as "Mellow Yellow" and "Wear Your Love Like Heaven," Donovan also gave us "The Intergalactic Laxative."


Portrait Artist

That’s the essence of newspapers and reporting – to comment on just about anything. When there’s nothing wrong or new about a particular thing those newsmen won’t have work.

Besides if your work is really unusual it will really catch the attention of media men. Don’t you think it’s a feather in your cap to know that your work of art or music or story or site or blog attracted attention? Otherwise, it’s nothing but a piece of junk.

Let’s leave the intrigues to those people. Let’s leave the remarks on the four corners of the newspaper. Let’s live each day making our craft better than the other day.

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