Who decides whether art is ‘good’ or ‘bad’?

Hierarchies of taste exist in our society, but their roots often reflect more than just the quality of work.

A. O. Scott: I think that taste hierarchies do exist and they're almost always the kind of the representation of other sorts of hierarchies and assumptions. And that's why I really think that part of the job of criticism is to be against them, is to refuse, at least the categorization of things as high and low.

I think it was Duke Ellington who's often quoted as saying, "There are two kinds of music; good music and bad in music." And everything else is kind of sociology and politics and prejudice and snobbery kind of sneaking in. And we're none of us immune to those things. We live in the world we associate with, who we associate with; we identify ourselves as we identify ourselves. But I think that the job of critics and of criticism is to kind of to push against that. And it has just even historically been the job of critics very often or of criticism to insist on the value and the dignity and the importance of works of art and types of works of art that had been neglected or ignored or disrespected. And it's in fact the rise of criticism, within any of those arts, that gets it to be taken seriously.

Movies are a great example. I mean movies, you know, nobody took movies seriously except like maybe in Germany in the '20s as an art form. And it was critics first in France and then in the United States after the Second World War who said well look no, this junk that's been coming out of Hollywood actually this is a significant modern art form. These people whose names you just see in the credits, Howard Hawks, Alfred Hitchcock, John Ford, Orson Welles, these are artists. This is art. And it was critics who were able to do that and I think jazz critics and rock critics and people who have written about hip-hop and television have done that work too of recategorizing and redefining and challenging the hierarchical assumptions about what is high art and what is low.

The thing that's great about movies is that they are high and low and that they run, you know, there's a very wide spectrum from the most crassly commercial genre of products and the most refined and difficult works of art. And the thing that you discover when you write about criticism is that sometimes the ones that are very low are actually, you know, fantastic works of art and the ones that are very high can be just as terrible and a hacky and stupid as anything else.

  • "Taste" in art and entertainment can often represent societal hierarchies, prejudices, and inequalities.
  • Part of the job of a critic is to refuse categorization of art as "high" or "low."
  • By challenging and redefining these assumptions, critics can level the playing field to include work from all walks of life.

Astronomers discover what makes the biggest explosions in space

New study figures out how stars produce gamma ray bursts.

University of Warwick/Mark Garlick
Surprising Science
  • Researchers find out how binary star systems produce gamma ray bursts.
  • Gamma ray bursts are the brightest explosions in the Universe.
  • Tidal effects created in a binary system keep the stars spinning fast and create the bursts.
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The joy of French, in a dozen maps

Isogloss cartography shows diversity, richness, and humour of the French language

Strange Maps
  • Isogloss maps show what most cartography doesn't: the diversity of language.
  • This baker's dozen charts the richness and humour of French.
  • France is more than French alone: There's Breton and German, too – and more.
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Want to be a better leader? Take off the mask.

The best leaders don't project perfection. Peter Fuda explains why.

  • There are two kinds of masks leaders wear. Executive coach Peter Fuda likens one to The Phantom of the Opera—projecting perfectionism to hide feelings of inadequacy—and the other to The Mask, where leaders assume a persona of toughness or brashness because they imagine it projects the power needed for the position.
  • Both of those masks are motivated by self-protection, rather than learning, growth and contribution. "By the way," says Fuda, "your people know you're imperfect anyway, so when you embrace your imperfections they know you're honest as well."
  • The most effective leaders are those who try to perfect their craft rather than try to perfect their image. They inspire a culture of learning and growth, not a culture where people are afraid to ask for help.

To learn more, visit peterfuda.com.