Home > Honors and Awards, Literature > Awards and Criticism: Rewards and Punishment?

Awards and Criticism: Rewards and Punishment?

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I don’t trust that I’m either an intellectual or emotional masochist, but I love reading criticism on subjects that influence my character:  Being a Filipino, woman, middle class, agnostic, even a literature major.

My attitude towards criticism is the same with that of a conversation.  You watch a movie with a friend and afterwards feel an urgency to talk about it.  It is a dialogue wherein the participants’ main goal is not to agree or disagree with each other, but to throw light on why their responses to the work are such.

But when the critique is directed at methe specific and unique I, I am definitely no masochist.  A negative statement about you, your word, work and deed, hurts.

To anyone engaging in the art of communication, to those who are serious about their message and want to be taken seriously, the worst things that can happen, considering they are heard, are:

  1. Be misunderstood and dismissed; and
  2. Be completely understood and logically shown that your words are wrong and weak.

Item one makes you feel helpless and conclude at the end of the day that only you can talk to yourself.  You truly are your best audience.  Item two on the other hand tells you that there is someone else who gets it.  That there is a reader and a reading to benefit from.  Between the two, which response would you prefer?

Criticism has gained a reputation as a fault-finding practice.  Maybe because those who practice it are focused on digging for mistakes, or because those whose works are criticized are too sensitive and take critiques as personal attacks.  Maybe both.

Do art and literature matter?

I gave and received my share of criticism (mostly on poetry) when I was still writing under a pseudonym on another blog in 2006.  Several observations were:

  1. People care and are curious about poetry.  They crave a discussion on what is happening, what is good, bad and ugly.
  2. People listen.

With a framework of writing as if in conversation with a few friends, involvement of readers outside my circle surprised me and led me to believe that I was not alone in my confusion regarding what people think pass as good poetry.  An audience I was not familiar with also pushed me to take more responsibility.  They may only be a few, but considering I was writing about poetry, that audience was more than enough for me.

Readers would ask the big question:  What is a good poem then?  And I felt bad for not being able to reply; partly because I felt like I had to give an introductory course on poetry, since not one sentence or book could answer that, and partly because I realized I was practicing criticism on a very superficial leveldigging for mistakes.

If art and literature matter

When I first heard of the National Artist Awards controversy in August, my initial reaction was, Okay, so what? I’d grown desensitized to questionable awards.  I would even side with those who think that if the name Carlo Caparas were as obscure as Emmanuel Garibayand we loved our presidentno one would say a word about it.

All this to me shows that while we are concerned about the arts, we do not bother enough to examine it (as with many things, we leave it up to emotion and reflex).  When we say art, people’s reactions will mostly be associations with beauty, truth, rebellion, the profound and inexplicable; or I don’t care.  And we have always been fine with that.  There is a virtual consensus that there is no objective way of viewing art, or at least an objective way of articulating one’s feeling towards an artwork.

Some, in their own ways, have been taking action to promote the arts and educate people about it.  There are two things, though, that I believe art could benefit from the most.

1.  We need the awards

  • Yes, to acknowledge and encourage artists, but only secondary to recognizing and demanding artistic excellence.  Artists may have different motivations for joining a contest, but all that will not matter if they win through the merits of their work.
  • To serve as another context in studying the craftas a record of what the standards are of a particular period.  What are the trends, what are the deviations, what are the merits of the deviations?  Why?
  • We need the awards and right now we are seeing how we also need to: (a) improve on its systems, and (b) change our attitude towards it.  Some suggest that the prize money could better be invested in a cause that would enrich the arts.  And instead of a token that seals the artist’s creative credibility and recompenses good work, an award must oblige and challenge the artist to further develop artistic institutions.
  • And yes, by all means give awards for criticism, if only to encourage it and celebrate critical thinking.

2.  We need criticism

  • To serve as another context in studying and valuating an artwork.  (Other than the audience and artist’s personal biases.)
  • To serve as another stimulus in art appreciation.
  • The best promotion of art is discussion.

While we teach how to produce art, we do not teach how to give a critical estimate of an artwork.  (Production is also a practice of critical estimation; the former is exclusive to the artist, the latter is beneficial to both artist and audience.)

Regular criticism in all possible media could serve as a continuous conversation, and if you like, a kind of calibration that would guide us in understanding and appreciating art.

Option

Awards given to the National Artists are sourced from public funds.  That is one solid line that connects art and society.  If art matters to us, we should act as if it really matters.  We can always stay in our world of read-write-paint-et cetera, but once we start expecting recognition for our work and expressing discontent in the environment that influences what we hold dear, then we have to involve ourselves in that bigger world of criticisms and develop our artistic institutions.

NOTES:

  1. Being completely understood and logically shown that your words are wrong and weak can also be one of the best things to happen to someone.
  2. Nothing against Mr. Emmanuel Garibay.
  3. The post is in part a response/additive to what Butch Dalisay previously wrote; Philbert Ortiz Dy’s ideas on how to improve the awards systems are also taken into consideration.
  4. Ideal criticism is subject for another discussion.
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