Richard Feynman ‘The beauty of a flower’
What a fine man.
I feel much the same about poetry, lit, art, and lit criticism. I don’t mean the stuff that TV usually portrays that’s evaluative (“This poem is poor. That painting is a masterpiece. Blah blah blah. I have spoken”) or the crap about “dissecting poems” that people complain about that usually has some mediocre or bad English teacher lecturing to a class the one-true-meaning some work has while there’s scansion on the chalk board and so forth. I mean the criticism that lets you look at a work with the level of awareness, clarity, expansiveness and minuteness as the cartoon shows Feynman doing above.
Criticism really is a poor word to describe what “critics” actually do to most people: the word’s mundane associations are too tied to judgment and evaluation. [For example, food critics and movie critics often write reviews that tell you whether you should eat somewhere or see a film, and why.] What I’m talking about is analysis and interpretation: looking at what something says, how it says it, to what end it seems or might be saying it, why it might be saying or doing that, what social or other forces might be guiding the way it’s saying it or that people read it then or now, and so forth and so on. It’s about developing a vocabulary and practice to articulate why something is beautiful, moving, grotesque, radical, subversive, or not. And for many of us, developing those skills adds to our experience of art and our ability to say why we like (or don’t like) something, and we like to think that it can add to other peoples’ experiences, as well.
What the cartoon artist complains about science and scientists is what many complain about critics, but to be fair, critics like to complain about scientists’ perspectives, and critics also tend to look at artists with a gaze that says, “Yes, well, you make it, we’ll tell you why it does whatever it does.”