More on judging

It’s also helpful if someone — trashing or loving some work of art — gives some space to the other side. That’s especially helpful if the art in question is controversial, extreme, not well known, or widely misunderstood.

For instance, when I write about Cage’s 4’33“, I could reach out a hand to everyone who can’t abide the piece, everyone who sits there during a performance, going wild with boredom or nervousness, wishing the silence would go away. (Though, in the ’80s, writing my column in The Village Voice, I had no patience with Edward Banfield, a political scientist who wrote a book attacking arts funding from the government. He based a lot of his argument on the silliness, as he saw it, of artworks like the Cage, but when I met him, he turned out to have no idea what Cage thought the point of the piece was supposed to be. He’d made no attempt to understand what he was attacking, which — to put it mildly — weakened his argument. And in the end, he turned out to favor public funding of art he thought was good for people, which meant his entire argument was bogus, but that’s another story.)

If I get ecstatic over Antonioni’s L’avventura (one of my all-time artistic touchstones), I might acknowledge that many people find the film slow, mannered, obvious, or incomprehensible.

And if I ever want to say (again) that John Harbison’s The Great Gatsby is an opera that isn’t very strong as theater, I should also say that the music is beautifully written and often beautiful, and that the piece is wholly serious, so it’s in no way a negligible work, no matter what I think is wrong with it.

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