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Art and literature call for professional commentaries

Author  :  Pan Jian     Source  :    Chinese Social Sciences Today     2021-11-18

Five departments, including the Publicity Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC), recently issued the “Guidelines to Strengthen Commentaries on Art and Literature in the New Era.” It is proposed in the guidelines that professional and authoritative commentaries on art and literature should be made and given full play to utilize their directive roles in art and literary works.

Reduced professionalism

Be it literature, drama, music, painting, sculpture, or film, TV series, comics and animation, or online art, they themselves as disciplinary divisions are highly professional. As multifarious forms of art and literature become increasingly close to people’s daily lives in the context of the increasingly popular mass culture, they are now fundamental parts of people’s cultural consumption.

Hence, creation of works no longer seems to be a job exclusive to writers, scripters, painters, composers, and directors. Anyone who is interested in it can have a try at creation, let alone appreciation for works or making commentary. This is indeed a good phenomenon because it means that people’s cultural literacy has improved and a learning social atmosphere is being formed with different ideas, knowledge, and thoughts continuously generated. But we also need to realize this means a reduced professionalism within art and literature, and the way some people understand and perceive the works still lingers on being superficial.

As such, professional commentaries should become the mainstay. But why are such commentaries becoming less now than ever before, and with fading influence? It is true that mass commentaries are gaining strength with growing voice, but this is also attributed to the still-not-authoritative and incisive enough commentaries made by professionals. The reasons are multifold. For example, the discernment is not acute enough; the understanding is not insightful; the judgment is still far from being accurate; the criticism is not penetrating. All these deficiencies make these commentaries not persuasive or forceful. This is connected with the individual commentator’s professional quality regarding their own specialization, personality, and personal character, and also with the changing social environment at large.

Under the considerable impact of rapidly developing mass culture, the specialized commentators either no longer make their voice heard or drift along with the social tide, blindly following others. Some of them become new leaders of opinions—however, what they value is no longer professionalism but the number of fans they can attract.

Criteria to be followed

To strengthen the professionalism and authoritativeness of commentaries, criteria of each division of art should be strictly abided by. Each discipline of art that is considered mature has its basic theoretical system, which constantly evolves with the era. The methods adopted may vary while the fundamental principles are essentially the same. Be it commentaries on each division or on the general field, theoretical systems should be the kernel of guidelines, based on which evaluation systems and rules are established as fundamental benchmarks.

In addition, the way that commentators speak is important. In the face of a particular work, commentators should evaluate it in an objective and authentic way. They should neither cover up the defects and give compliments to inferior works, nor undervalue excellent ones. Today, many of the commentaries, especially those that carry commercial interest, tend to be partial. If this phenomenon continues for a long time, how can credibility be established? Moreover, plain, unadorned language that is easily understandable is encouraged. The words used should be standardized without pretentiously being recondite. Last but not least, unique perspectives are essential for good commentaries.


Pan Jian is a professor from the School of Humanities at Zhejiang University.

Editor: Yu Hui

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