One of my favorite summer shows to watch is "America's Got Talent" on NBC. I usually watch it simply for the entertainment value - I never participate in the actual voting process, and I acknowledge that some of the "talent" on the show is not necessarily sophisticated talent or even, at times, "talent" at all. Over the past few weeks with the transition of moving to Geneseo and adjusting to dorm and college life again, I've missed a couple of weeks of episodes. This morning while I was doing my laundry, I decided to catch up. I watched the episode from last week that aired on the 28th. The competition is currently in the semi-finals stage, with the finals being next week. One of the semi-finalists was Joe Castillo, a man who tells epic stories through sand and light. He said something following his performance that reminded me precisely of what we were discussing in class yesterday.
The judges were discussing his performance. The final image on stage was the profile of a child facing left, and a profile of a bearded man crowned by the sun facing right. Howard Stern voiced a concern that the work was too similar to other work that Joe Castillo had done, but Sharon Osborne disagreed.
"What is that?" Stern asked
"It's JESUS!" shrieked Sharon. "That's Jesus holding a baby!"
"It's Jesus? That's not Jesus," Stern argued.
"That's what I think it is!" Sharon said.
"See, Joe, that's the problem! No one knows who that is!" Stern said.
"That's my interpretation," said Sharon.
"Is that Jesus?" Stern asked Joe Castillo.
Then Joe Castillo said, "That's the beauty of art. People see what they need to see, Howard."
In light of our conversation in class about what art (or in our case, literature) is and how it should be evaluated, I thought this was a powerful statement. Castillo's statement that people see what they need to see reminds me of the "practical criticism" method, as does Sharon's reaction to the art. We know very little about Joe Castillo as an individual, so in the evaluation of his work we have little option but to remove the context and evaluate it based on our reactions to the images that are presented to us. Howard Stern's reaction is more reminiscent of Sontag's approach to criticism; his assessment focused more on the technique and the similarity of the work to Castillo's previous performances rather than an emotional reaction to the perceived "meaning." Stern has said before that he is moved by Castillo's work, so his issue was not a matter of emotional withdrawal or refusal to see the art as containing a "message", but his method of evaluating the art is technical first and emotional second.
The combination of the judge's entirely different receptions of the art presented to them epitomizes the practice of criticism. I think that it even shows that the practice of criticism is more about the critics than the art - every critic brings something entirely new to the work that they are evaluating, because every individual has unique worldviews and paradigms that guide their practice.
The last thing that I expected to do while watching "America's Got Talent" this morning was relate it to class, but I think it's interesting that even the most superficial forms of entertainment contain elements of criticism and the larger body of the discussion of art and literature.