Dec 1, 2009

Peer-review this.

If you've been on the Intartubes and have participated in some form of public forum on a topic of debate, you, my friend, have been peer-reviewed. Or flamed. But mostly, you've been subjected to cites and links and vociferous differences of opinion. You've seen vain boasting, false creds, soaring fame and flaming defeat all in a day. You've learned more than you ever thought you needed to know about spelling and grammar from the pedants, and had way too many years to believe that you, alone, had the Answer to All That Is Wrong With ___, only to find a hundred others who debunked it ages ago.

Some timid ones have stuck a toe in the chilly waters of public forum only to find too many sharks in the water for their comfort. But sharks in the waters of debate is exactly what's needed in any field of public endeavor. If the public is funding it, it should be open to all comments, questions and criticisms.

If you want to be sovereign in your opinions, you must first be self-funded. Or limit your social circle to one. Or be something so pedestrian as a dictator.

The whoredoms of the artiste are many, political considerations being most lucrative. This is the first and foremost distasteful thing about public funding of the arts: the public eventually is shut out of the peer-review process. We are subjected to an ever-smaller circle of what C.S. Lewis derided as the Inner Ring, (thanks, Tanis!) now empowered as a diktat of what is artistically competent and worthy. Art Czars. Communication Czars. Media Czars disguised as "spokescreatures."

Criticism. The pejoration of the concept of critique is weakening our science, arts, and media.

I quite vividly remember first hearing the concept in Art class and was instructed as to how to receive a critique. My dear teacher was adamant that her students grow up and grow strong in their pursuit of artistic expression. It wasn't enough to "feel it" you had to successfully express it. It was tough. Even as recently as a few years ago, my art professor was still very committed to the critique process. It sometimes stings, however, to hear your colleagues' opinion of your work. It is not always pleasant, but it is always helpful in producing a better result, a new outlook, a different vantage. . . but then you'd have to want the best thing of all, the truth.

Criticism often brings truth and clarity to the overcharged mental excitement brought on by Some New Thing that has captured the imagination. No one knows this better than a true scientist, and no one better understands the danger of bypassing this important process. I assure you that there is not one true scientist out there that doesn't grasp the serious setback that the exposure of the CRU emails represents. It is epic in the proportions of moral failure, an Inquisition equivalent of blacklisting and torturous burdens on the climate unbelievers that would shame a Pope.


Can you imagine today's high school curricula allowing such a thing as criticism to happen to our precious, precious little darlings? It's obvious that journalism schools have abandoned the concept. And every public-sector employer has, by reason of political correctness and threat of lawsuit, abandoned any hope of performance evaluation, meritocracy, or recognition of exceeding talent.

Which brings another adjunct disillusionment: without understanding and reviewing our peers with standards, no one can be rightfully acknowledged as a standout-- unless and except it be conferred by political fiat.

How else can Obama be seen as, brilliant? And it explains why his reviewable past is hidden, why he refuses to commit to any decision; it leaves him open to the painful process of peer-review in a way he has never encountered in his privileged experience.

This is how we come to be subjected to the weakest pablum from our schools. Our children are brilliant and unique! Each one of them a President! Who would dampen a child's starry-eyed enthusiasm with something so barbaric as a grade? You heartless bastard.

This is how we come to be ruled by the Hollywood set who deign to approve whom they will. This explains the plague of awards shows. We must have more people pulled into the Inner Ring, so let's make everyone feel special and talented. If they're all so talented, why is CGI so necessary?

This is how we are terrorized by criminals and zealots; obviously they are unique and talented people, and had we not failed them with our bizarre ideals and expectations they wouldn't be forced to hate us. Our judges no longer judge by rule or law but, like Obama's foreign policy, they free-form their opinions on the fly, thinking themselves a better judge of actions than their long-past peers. This is why our juries are so inept; our lawyers seek out the non-reviewed life, the willing victim, the vapid consciousness never once challenged to think an action through to its logical end.

This is how we bow the knee so quickly to the taxation of our personal efforts and accomplishments; because in a confusing world without standards we are somehow guilty for being successful as defined by someone else's arbitrary measurements and applicable by whim. It's why food stamps are not a social stigma, because if no one can be a standout, no one can be a failure. Unless someone is oppressing them, of course.

And we, the People of the United States have now deformed our more perfect union, mocked justice, and undermined our own domestic tranquility because we listened to the un-reviewed: the untested ear-ticklers, the unchallenged race-hustlers, the overwrought apologizers and wheedling explainers. I'm okay, you're okay.

We acquiesce to the dulling thud of the repeated blows to our psyche; the shut-outs, shout-downs, lock-outs and now, even the physical beat-down of any dissenter. (Looking at you, SEIU.)

The beat-down being, of course, the only recourse left to those who will brook no review of their precious pet theories.

n.b. to lovers of truth: Duck.


julie said...

Re. critiques, when I was in art school we had them, too. Only trouble was, we were expected to express our criticism in ways that didn't hurt the artist's feelings, and anything sounding remotely negative was frowned upon. So instead of truth, everybody got a big helping of (generally undeserved) attaboy/ girl, thus continuing the "we're all special" cycle.

Joan of Argghh! said...

But you really are, Julie! I envy your eye for color, the sheer joy you convey in your work.

I will say that having my own gallery was the ultimate peer review. That first Art Walk night when folks walked thru the door. It's the ultimate experience of seeing what people will respect about you. . . with the ultimate act of laying out cash for it.

Later, I was part of an erstwhile avant garde gallery full of whiners that complained that our clientele were culturally ignorant tourists. No, that didn't last long for me.

joated said...

The old saying of "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all" does nothing to strengthen the work being critiqued.

How would progress be made in any field without folks pointing out how things were done incorrectly or how they could be done better?

Who would build a better plane, boat, plane or car? Who would perfect telecommunications systems? Skyscrapers? Who would write better music, songs, literature? Well, you get the idea.

Excellent post, Joan.

The J.R. said...

Truth. What a concept.

GUYK said...


Yabu (EOTIS) said...

Great post..."...the vapid consciousness never once challenged to think an action through to its logical end..."...well said.

Anonymous said...

Hello, Joan. Just found your blog from over at H2.

Good work.

I was asked to jury the work of grad students in architecture at Michigan a few years ago. The professor told me to be supportive, and not question the feasibility (meaning affordability) of the designs.

I told her that she better find someone else.

Anonymous said...

Reminds me of the song, A boy named Sue! A great post lady!!!
I am in the arts and have never had any problem with what is said about my work, it has made it better. I am fed up with this PC crap, if you can't take the heat, get out of the kitchen!!!

Teresa said...

The world is screwed up and upside down. In the peer review process - that is exactly when critics need to voice their opinions. Unfortunately, as Joated says, the "if you can't say anything nice" mantra seems to take hold.

Then these same people who can't seem to let one critical word pass their lips in the proper place, turn straight around and criticize the hell out of people in social situations... all with the supposed goal of "helping the poor clueless soul". Everything from lifestyle to weight to plastic surgery is fair game.

But heaven forbid we tell an arteest that his paint style sucks or insist that a scientist studying a theory back up his work with relevant data available to the public without tampering... no we couldn't have that!

Joan of Argghh! said...

Hey hotspur! Welcome to my humble adobe!

Hiya Ken, thanks for stopping by!

pajama momma said...

Wow, were you at my Thanksgiving dinner this year?

patti said...

I'm OK, You're OK - but we could both improve.
I'm sick of the mediocrity demanded by our culture.
Blech - Be ye hot or be ye cold, luke warm shall be spit out - or something along those lines :)

Elisson said...

"When everybody's somebody, then no-one's anybody." - W. S. Gilbert

This brief commentary might resonate with your beautifully constructed jeremiad.

delftsman said...

That was one of the best descriptions describing the malaise affecting our Republic that I have ever had the pleasure to read.
Thank you for the clarifying thoughts, Joan.

Froth said...

I distinctly remember my very first art show. We received critiques from every single judge on 10 points, the usual, technique, composition,originality, blahblah blah. Iknew what I'd done was no better than a piece of wallpaper, but the information I got from those critiques was invaluable. It made me pay attention. And,while judging art is so subjective, there is a certain core of "you have to be able to do this in order to break this rule, or you have to at least bamboozle your audience intelligently."

There are so few absolutes anymore. It's all relative. It's all mushy.
Fuck that.

Great post.

Joan of Argghh! said...

Hey Froth lady! I need to remind everyone that you're blogging again and all is right with the world.

You were missed, missy!

Froth said...

You mean, I'm responsible for all that's good and true?

patti said...

Hey Joan, thanks for Froth - she's all cool and stuff :)

dogette said...

I don't really respect most of my so-called "peers." I think most people are idiots. In my heart of hearts, I do. There. I said it.

Forums. Pffft.

pamibe said...

As with so many of your posts, I kept this one in my feed reader to peruse off and on. Skimming other people's offerings, this one came round again and again...

Love the way you write; no critique here. ;)