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Teachout on initial reaction to a masterpiece


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Terry Teachout writes of his initial reaction, later confirmed, to Mark Morris' "V," and seems to suggest that such a reaction reliably signifies "masterpiece."

He felt "immediate involvement," trust in the artist's "competence," unflagging attention, nervousness midway through that the artist would blow what was so good so far, and a loss of anxiety at the "consummation" as the artist "solves" the internal logic of his work.

A Ballet Alerter wrote me off-board the other day and characterized Teachout's "blog" as self-involved. Teachout writes -- "I read [V's] quality off myself, the same way you can read the seismographic chart of an earthquake and know how strong it was. Or—to put it more simply—I knew how good V was because of the way it made me feel.""


Still . . . I wonder how much weight others give to first reactions, and what kind of reactions you look for. Thomas Hoving writes of an strong initial impression, an intuition, that a great work gives, and if I'm not mistaken Robert Garis writes of something similar in regards to his first viewing of Apollo.

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Well, blogs are by definition self-centered, although some are less ego-driven than others. I suspect it may be therapeutic for writers to get the Me Myself and I stuff out of their systems. Teachout's isn't the worst I've seen in that respect by any means. As for his analysis of how he knows a masterpiece, well, it doesn't seem that far from the famous comment from Columbia Pictures' Harry Cohn that Teachout quotes, but that could be me. :lol:

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I agree that blogs encourage "It's all about me." I looked at the Movable Type site once; they have a nav bar with recently updated blogs. One of my favorites was called "Like Krypton on Stupid." No self-esteem problems there!

When reading criticism, I don't usually find reviews that are All About the Critic very interesting or very useful; I'd rather know what the work looked like, and what the writer thought about it. Otherwise, it casts art in the role of a Rorschach (sp?) test, and I think it's about more than that.

How does one react to a masterpiece -- that is an interesting question, and thank you for raising it, kfw. I saw "V" and liked it, but didn't think it a masterpiece. But I thought Morris's "Allegro" WAS a masterpiece. It's one of the few times I can remember when I parked the analytical part of my brain. There were bits of it I didn't like (the cutesy ones) and I remember saying, "Stop it. Just enjoy it." And I did. I could tell you afterwards WHY I thought it was a masterpiece, and that often is simply finding both words and logic that will communicate that thought to other people ("the structure was solid," "the musicality was acute," "one idea flowed from another as though each were inevitable" etc.), rather than being able to really say what the work was, or why it was great, or at least why one thinks it's great. But as for how I felt about it, or how it changed my life, or listing the thought processes in a review -- :yawn:

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I hope we have more replies on this -- it's two good questions.

One -- if you've ever seen a masterpiece, how did you react? How did you "know" it was a masterpiece (new work, or first confrontation of an old one)

Two -- I'd be curious, as a critic, what readers want from criticism in this regard. Do you want to read about the critic's feelings and reaction to a work, or about the work? (In a way, of course, all criticism IS a very personal reaction to a work; it's just a matter of focus and emphasis.)

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I didn't know Sleeping Beauty was a masterpiece for a long time. Part of this was not seeing good versions of it, but I need to see a work many times before I can really understand and start to analyze it.

An example of this is when I went to see...well I'm blanking on the name right now :shrug: but it's a Tudor ballet--the one that begins with the heroine putting her hand up to her hair. I want to say Pillar of Fire??? Anyway, I'm sure it's a wonderful ballet based on the opinions I've read here, but I'd need repeated viewings (a pretty good knowledge of the choreography is also important to me) to really understand all of it.

As for the second question, I want to read about the work, but I also want to read an analysis of it--not really how the critic felt about it on a deeply personal level, but what the strong/weak points are, whether ideas were presented clearly & logically, &c.

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