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Literature, art critics should adopt people-centered approach

Author  :  Ding Xudong     Source  :    Chinese Social Sciences Today     2017-12-11

According to biology, the ecosystem consists of three major functional groups: producers, consumers and decomposers. It is the same with the ecosystem of literature and art. Writers and artists are the producers while readers and audience are the consumers, and researchers and critics are the decomposers. Interconnected, they constitute an integrated whole. 

China is home to considerable number of literary and art critics. In the information age, the emergence of Weibo, WeChat and other rating websites provides a variety of broader platforms for people to voice their opinions, so the actual number of critics is growing. But even though the barriers to entry have been reduced and amateur criticism is being popularized, commentaries are failing to exert their due influence on the creation and reception of literary and artistic works.

Promoting the wholesome development of the literature and art ecosystem requires a multitude of influential, credible critics with a people-centered approach, who castigate the bad and extoll the good. 

Mass media and academia currently produce most of the literary and artistic critics in China. The two have commonalities. For example, they both need qualifications, such as artistic expertise, aesthetic sensibilities, logical thinking and artistic imagination. But they also differ from each other in many aspects. Serving the masses, mass media critics usually introduce some general knowledge relevant to artworks and phenomena, while the academic critics serve the artists and the academia, so they conduct professional, technical analysis of art products and academic reasoning in a fixed and structured way before scrupulously drawing conclusions. The mass media critics rely on click rate, voluntarily given tip by netizens, copyright royalties and they usually voice their opinions through WeMedia and mass media while academic critics publish commentaries in academic journals and professional publications. They are paid research project funds or remuneration for their works.

In general, the two types of critics have their own features but also limitations. Some articles authored by academic critics, though profound in thought, tend to use abstruse and esoteric language. As a result, their criticism is confined to small audience and elite groups. This makes it unhelpful in building up the cadre team and reversing the unwholesome ethos among literary and art critics. In order to ingratiate themselves to the readers, some mass media critics adopt a shallow, sloppy writing style, and prioritize the “interesting” part of the article, disregarding detailed and careful research and investigation, objective and dialectical analysis, and profound, insightful thinking, which makes the commentaries oversimplified and casual. In today’s internet context particularly, many of the critics place undue emphasis on the click rate and voluntarily succumb to the shock brought by business capital. As a consequence, many opinions and comments that are extreme, biased, one-sided with pent-up feelings have gone viral on the internet, and even some inferior, vulgar works surprisingly gain commercial success and growing popularity amid a deluge of query, abuse and complaints from netizens. 

Critics who create their works on the basis of a people-centered approach should be the sages, the synthesis of mass media critics and academic critics with aspiration, vision, social responsibility and, preferably with scholarly background.

In a word, the critics that the new era calls for should possess good political quality as well as the courage and the insight to speak straight from their guts. The works they write can illustrate inscrutable academic theory and effectively guide literary and artistic creation as well as the direction of industrial development in the field. In addition, the works should, in plain language and simple terms, make the complex, in-depth exposition of theory understandable and accessible to common people. Serve the people, represent mass literature and art, create high-quality works that are in line with the times, and that are able to raise the masses out of the swamp of vulgar aesthetics—this is what real literary and art critics should aspire to. 


Ding Xudong is a professor from the School of Music at Shanxi Normal University and secretary-general of Aesthetic Education Research Center at China Conservator of Music.

Editor: Yu Hui

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