W.H. Auden’s Rules for Critics

1. Introduce me to authors or works of which I was hitherto unaware.
2. Convince me that I have undervalued an author or work because I had not read them carefully enough.
3. Show me relations between works of different ages and cultures which I could never have seen for myself because I do not know enough and never shall.
4. Give a “reading” of a work which increases my understanding of it.
5. Throw light upon the process of artistic “Making.”
6. Throw light upon the relation of art to life, to science, economics, ethics, religion, etc.

I originally read this in an introduction to A.D. Coleman’s Critical Focus, written by noted Magnum photographer, Bill Jay. There are a few reasons I’m posting this, not the least of which being to make it easier to search for when I’m talking about the state of criticism with people. Which is ultimately the other big reason I’m posting it: the state of criticism needs to be addressed.

I’m not sure I really want to get into all the issues right now, as it’s a substantial topic, and I have lot to say about it once I’m a bit more together. The short of it is this: recently, several new media (in particular, I’m speaking of webcomics and gaming) have been publically criticized for their lack of “journalistic rigor” and poor overall quality. While I feel some of that criticism has been crude and exaggerated, I do agree with the general sentiment that most writing in these fields has been sub-par at best, filled with buzzwords, fan bias, and self-important egoism. That said, I honestly believe that the biggest problem is that most people (both viewers and authors) don’t understand the purpose of critique. As I see it, the most effective method to improve the situation is to teach people what it is they are supposed to be doing when writing a critical review of title. W.H. Auden’s succinct rules for critics (more of guidelines, really) does an excellent job (in my opinion) of illuminating the critic’s role.