Criticism

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Criticism, whatever may be its pretensions, never does more than to define the impression which is made upon it at a certain moment by a work wherein the writer himself noted the impression of the world which he received at a certain hour. ~ James Branch Cabell

Criticism is the activity of judgement or informed interpretation. In literary and academic contexts, the term most frequently refers to literary criticism, art criticism, or other such fields, and to scholars' attempts to understand the aesthetic object in depth.

Quotes[edit]

It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena… ~ Theodore Roosevelt
Alphabetized by author
  • I am bound by my own definition of criticism: a disinterested endeavour to learn and propagate the best that is known and thought in the world.
    • Matthew Arnold, Essays in Criticism, 1st Series, 'The Function of Criticism at the Present Time.
  • He was in Logic, a great critic,
    Profoundly skill'd in Analytic;
    He could distinguish, and divide
    A hair 'twixt south and south-west side.
  • I am not a critic; to me criticism is so often nothing more than the eye garrulously denouncing the shape of the peephole that gives access to hidden treasure.
    • Djuna Barnes, in "The Songs of Synge : The Man Who Shaped His Life as He Shaped His Plays", in New York Morning Telegraph (18 February 1917).
  • Criticism, whatever may be its pretensions, never does more than to define the impression which is made upon it at a certain moment by a work wherein the writer himself noted the impression of the world which he received at a certain hour.
  • Let dull critics feed upon the carcases of plays; give me the taste and the dressing.
  • Parodies and caricatures are the most penetrating of criticisms.
  • We must grant the artist his subject, his idea, his donné: our criticism is applied only to what he makes of it.
    • Henry James, The Art of Fiction, 'Partial Portraits.'
  • People ask you for criticism, but they only want praise.
  • A perfect Judge will read each work of Wit
    With the same spirit that its author writ:
    Survey the Whole, nor seek slight faults to find
    Where nature moves, and rapture warms the mind.
  • In every work regard the writer's End,
    Since none can compass more than they intend;
    And if the means be just, the conduct true,
    Applause, in spite of trivial faults, is due.
  • It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by the dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions and spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who, at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly; so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory or defeat.
  • Never judge a critic by your agreement with his likes and dislikes.
    • George Saintsbury, A History of Criticism and Literary Taste in Europe from the Earliest Texts to the Present Day, Vol. 3, p. 644.
  • In the proudest nations of the Old World works were published which faithfully portrayed the vices and absurdities of contemporaries; La Bruyère lived in Louis XIV’s palace while he wrote his chapter on the great, and Molière criticized the court in plays acted before the courtiers. But the power which dominates in the United States does not understand being mocked like that. The least reproach offends it, and the slightest sting of truth turns it fierce; and one must praise everything, from the turn of its phrases to its most robust virtues. No writer, no matter how famous, can escape from this obligation to sprinkle incense over his fellow citizens. Hence the majority lives in a state of perpetual self-adoration; only strangers or experience may be able to bring certain truths to the Americans’ attention.
    • Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America (oiginally published in 1835–1840, edition of 1969, translated by George Lawrence), J. P. Mayer, ed., volume 1, part 2, chapter 7, p. 256.

Film[edit]

  • In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new. The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations, the new needs friends... Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere.
  • It is the critic's duty, I believe, to deliver honest opinions to posterity on the immediate experience of viewing movies, hoping that successors will respect their honest opinions and find them useful, rather than sneer at their insensitivity.
  • ...there is no longer any serious antagonism between critics, film distributors and moviemakers... we are now... welcomed respectfully by publicists, our notices, as they used to be called, filleted for favourable comments, but generally disregarded. In these placid days one looks back nostalgically to the anger an unfavourable review could elicit.

Comics[edit]

  • There were a lot of working professionals who were just sort of appalled at our attitude and probably at our punkish disrespect for mainstream, predominantly superhero, comics in general. They didn't think it was legitimate to criticize comics in that sort of high-toned way. Mainstream creators took a certain degree of pride in their work, but it was pride in them from the perspective of hard-core fans, and they weren't really imposing standards on them, other than craft standards, which had devolved from the history of comics—and the history of comics is mostly just a history of crap. So when we came in and applied these "exalted" standards to comics, creators were, frankly, pissed off.
  • The trick to writing comics criticism meant for an audience beyond the cult, I think—and, really, if the criticism is good enough and is in any kind of a general-interest venue, the audience will come—is subtle exposition: I try to write for a general audience, and give them everything they need to know, without making it look like I'm explaining something esoteric. In a lot of ways, the long comics reviews I write are just book reviews; I figure out a hook or some kind of engaging way of addressing the subject, I assess the thing in question, and I don't make a big deal out of the fact that it's a comic, any more than Kael would hem and haw over the fact that what she was reviewing was a motion picture.
  • ...using the language of film suggests that comics are somehow subordinate to film as a discipline: a movie that doesn't move.

Art[edit]

  • The most useful criticism in any art [form] is new work done with the same tools [as previous art].

Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations[edit]

Quotes reported in Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations (1922), p. 149-52.
  • When I read rules of criticism, I immediately inquire after the works of the author who has written them, and by that means discover what it is he likes in a composition.
  • A man must serve his time to every trade
    Save censure—critics all are ready made.
    Take hackney'd jokes from Miller, got by rote,
    With just enough of learning to misquote;
    A mind well skill'd to find or forge a fault;
    A turn for punning, call it Attic salt;
    To Jeffrey go, be silent and discreet,
    His pay is just ten sterling pounds per sheet;
    Fear not to lie, 'twill seem a lucky hit;
    Shrink not from blasphemy, 'twill pass for wit;
    Care not for feeling—pass your proper jest,
    And stand a critic, hated yet caress'd.
    • Lord Byron, English Bards and Scotch Reviewers, line 63.
  • As soon
    Seek roses in December—ice in June,
    Hope, constancy in wind, or corn in chaff;
    Believe a woman or an epitaph,
    Or any other thing that's false, before
    You trust in critics.
    • Lord Byron, English Bards and Scotch Reviewers, line 75.
  • Dijó la sarten á la caldera, quitate allá ojinegra.
    • Said the pot to the kettle, "Get away, blackface."
    • Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote (1605-15), II. 67.
  • Who shall dispute what the Reviewers say?
    Their word's sufficient; and to ask a reason,
    In such a state as theirs, is downright treason.
  • Though by whim, envy, or resentment led,
    They damn those authors whom they never read.
  • A servile race
    Who, in mere want of fault, all merit place;
    Who blind obedience pay to ancient schools,
    Bigots to Greece, and slaves to musty rules.
  • But spite of all the criticizing elves,
    Those who would make us feel—must feel themselves.
  • Reviewers are usually people who would have been poets, historians, biographers, etc., if they could: they have tried their talents at one or the other, and have failed; therefore they turn critics.
  • Too nicely Jonson knew the critic's part,
    Nature in him was almost lost in art.
    • Collins, Epistle to Sir Thomas Hanmer on his Edition of Shakespeare.
  • There are some Critics so with Spleen diseased,
    They scarcely come inclining to be pleased:
    And sure he must have more than mortal Skill,
    Who pleases one against his Will.
  • The press, the pulpit, and the stage,
    Conspire to censure and expose our age.
  • You know who critics are?—the men who have failed in literature and art.
  • It is much easier to be critical than to be correct.
  • The most noble criticism is that in which the critic is not the antagonist so much as the rival of the author.
  • Those who do not read criticism will rarely merit to be criticised.
  • Ill writers are usually the sharpest censors.
  • They who write ill, and they who ne'er durst write,
    Turn critics out of mere revenge and spite.
  • All who (like him) have writ ill plays before,
    For they, like thieves, condemned, are hangmen made,
    To execute the members of their trade.
  • "I'm an owl: you're another. Sir Critic, good day." And the barber kept on shaving.
  • Blame where you must, be candid where you can,
    And be each critic the Good-natured Man.
  • Reviewers are forever telling authors they can't understand them. The author might often reply: Is that my fault?
    • J. C. and A. W. Hare, Guesses at Truth.
  • The readers and the hearers like my books,
    And yet some writers cannot them digest;
    But what care I? for when I make a feast,
    I would my guests should praise it, not the cooks.
  • When Poets' plots in plays are damn'd for spite,
    They critics turn and damn the rest that write.
    • John Haynes—Prologue. in Oxford and Cambridge Miscellany Poems. Ed. by Elijah Fenton.
  • Unmoved though Witlings sneer and Rivals rail;
    Studious to please, yet not ashamed to fail.
  • 'Tis not the wholesome sharp morality,
    Or modest anger of a satiric spirit,
    That hurts or wounds the body of a state,
    But the sinister application
    Of the malicious, ignorant, and base
    Interpreter; who will distort and strain
    The general scope and purpose of an author
    To his particular and private spleen.
    • Ben Jonson, The Poetaster (1601), Act V, scene 1.
  • Lynx envers nos pareils, et taupes envers nous.
  • Critics are sentinels in the grand army of letters, stationed at the corners of newspapers and reviews, to challenge every new author.
  • A wise scepticism is the first attribute of a good critic.
  • Nature fits all her children with something to do,
    He who would write and can't write, can surely review;
    Can set up a small booth as critic and sell us his
    Petty conceit and his pettier jealousies.
  • The opinion of the great body of the reading public is very materially influenced even by the unsupported assertions of those who assume a right to criticise.
  • To check young Genius' proud career,
    The slaves who now his throne invaded,
    Made Criticism his prime Vizier,
    And from that hour his glories faded.
  • And you, my Critics! in the chequer'd shade,
    Admire new light thro' holes yourselves have made.
  • I lose my patience, and I own it too,
    When works are censur'd, not as bad but new:
    While if our Elders break all reason's laws,
    These fools demand not pardon but Applause.
  • For some in ancient books delight,
    Others prefer what moderns write;
    Now I should be extremely loth
    Not to be thought expert in both.
  • Die Kritik nimmt oft dem Baume
    Raupen und Blüthen mit einander.
    • Criticism often takes from the tree
      Caterpillars and blossoms together.
    • Jean Paul Richter, Titan, Zykel 105.
  • When in the full perfection of decay,
    Turn vinegar, and come again in play.
  • Reviewers, with some rare exceptions, are a most stupid and malignant race. As a bankrupt thief turns thief-taker in despair, so an unsuccessful author turns critic.
  • A poet that fails in writing becomes often a morose critic; the weak and insipid white wine makes at length excellent vinegar.
  • Of all the cants which are canted in this canting world—though the cant of hypocrites may be the worst—the cant of criticism is the most tormenting.
    • Laurence Sterne, Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, (Orig. ed.), Volume III, Chapter XII. "The cant of criticism." Borrowed from Sir Joshua Reynolds, Idler, Sept. 29, 1759.
  • For, poems read without a name,
    We justly praise, or justly blame;
    And critics have no partial views,
    Except they know whom they abuse.
    And since you ne'er provoke their spite,
    Depend upon't their judgment's right.
  • For since he would sit on a Prophet's seat,
    As a lord of the Human soul,
    We needs must scan him from head to feet,
    Were it but for a wart or a mole.

Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895)[edit]

Quotes reported in Josiah Hotchkiss Gilbert, Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895), p. 168.

  • Why will you be always sallying out to break lances with other people's wind-mills, when your own is not capable of grinding corn for the horse you ride?
  • Criticism is not religion, and by no process can it be substituted for it. It is not the critic's eye, but the child's heart, that most truly discerns the countenance that looks out from the pages of the gospel.
  • Grant me patience, just Heaven! Of all the cants which are canted in this canting world — though the cant of hypocrites may be the worst — the cant of criticism is the most tormenting.
  • An over-readiness to criticise or to depreciate a minister of Christ is proof of a lack of devotion to Christ.

External links[edit]

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