Wednesday 28 September 2016

'Better Living Through Criticism' by A.O. Scott review: 'Abounds with insight and humour'

Published by Jonathan Cape, €19.99

Published 16/05/2016 | 15:28

Better Living Through Criticism: How to Think About Art, Pleasure, Beauty Truth, by AO Scott
Better Living Through Criticism: How to Think About Art, Pleasure, Beauty Truth, by AO Scott

Despite the title, this is not a self-help book on dealing with criticism.

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Sub-titled, 'How to Think About Art, Pleasure, Beauty and Truth', it abounds with insight and humour.

Anthony Oliver Scott is chief film critic with The New York Times and he introduces the idea for his book with his review of the Avengers in 2012 and the Twitter retaliation from one of its stars, Samuel L Jackson.

Scott artfully interrogates his themes of 'What is Criticism?' in a dialogue with an imaginary 'friend'.  This continues between chapters and is a refreshing scheme to interrupt where other treatises can be unwieldy author-led introspection.

Scott adverts to Rilke and Marina Abramovic, Chuck Berry, Warhol and Seinfeld, Edmund Burke and Velazquez in these dialogues, demonstrating that whatever the medium, it is our method (or lack) of questioning our taste and distaste, which invigorates our sense of self.

The book is full of wit, intellect and emotional intelligence. Scott's style reminds me of Alain de Botton's Art of Travel and The Architecture of Happiness.  Both critics intimate that, without an ability to question, find alternative meaning, see in a different light, we are in danger of becoming terminally disappointed.

Criticism, as opposed to judgement and condescension, allows us to absorb satisfaction, retrieve cheap pleasure from within our own mind.  An ideal companion on your travels this summer.

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