critic at the pulpit

by Cal Corso

Art belongs to the people. It always has and hopefully always will.

It’s an important relationship, essential to the human experience.  Still it’s most consistent threat comes in the form of the intellectual asserting their expertise and implicitly suggesting some greater understanding of the art than the average person, even though we all have eyes and ears.

It’s a role that really shouldn’t exist unless it celebrates the work and it’s potential value to society.  If the work itself is no good then why talk about it at all? Wouldn’t it just add more noise to something that isn’t worthwhile to begin with?

Conversation and debate, more so than criticism, should arise from the ideas suggested by the art, and not dwell on whether the work is any good.  Any real complaint or criticism, then, would still manage to stimulate further discussion instead of stifling it.

“Never use a long word where a short one will do.”
-George Orwell

I can’t help but notice how these critics are a lot like some religious leaders who take a universal experience, plainly accessible to everyone, and suggest that their perspective on it is somehow more credible than our own, that they are more aware of its complexities–even though these are typically complexities of their own creation.

Most of them have never made a film, written a novel, composed music, or contributed anything to the field in which they claim expertise.  What they have done is invent a vocabulary, spontaneously and without any great need for one, a lexicon uniquely tailored to the craft, to a collective experience, that only further reinforces the illusion that they understand it more deeply than we do.

Jargon complicates the experience for the layman, reserving it for the elites who invent the language, evidently to perpetuate their own sense of self-importance.

In the late 1940s, William Faulkner criticized Ernest Hemingway for his terse style of writing, his limited choice of words.

“He has no courage, has never crawled out on a limb,” Faulkner said. “He has never been known to use a word that might cause the reader to check with a dictionary to see if it is properly used.”

When Hemingway heard about the criticism, he had his own choice words for Faulkner.

“Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words? He thinks I don’t know the ten-dollar words. I know them all right. But there are older and simpler and better words, and those are the ones I use.”

Very often I’ve met people who find art overwhelming, even intimidating, just like they do poetry and certain types of music, like jazz or classical, because they feel it goes over their head.  They get discouraged by their seeming inability to figure out what the artist is trying to say, as if there’s some great big point to it they cannot grasp.

Ultimately it’s a product of our own making.  We’ve cultivated a whole industry that assumes the right to decide for everyone else what is good and what is bad, even though there has never been a science in determining something like that, and suggesting otherwise only reinforces the idea of there being some secret language to understanding it in the first place, a language reserved only for the esoteric few instead of the many.

There is no big secret, or code, or convoluted way.  The language is universal.  There is only the reaction, our own individual connections to the art, every bit as legitimate as the reactions of the self-proclaimed scholars.

I emphasize this because, in this magazine, we’ll be talking about music and films and painting and all kinds of art that we enjoy here at Quinby & Co. We’ll be talking about why we enjoy it too.

We will never be talking about something just so that we can give it a bad review and shoot it down.  If you hear any kind of criticism, it will more often address a specific point we feel the work in question is making, one that we feel has broader societal and philosophical implications.

If anything, it will try and stimulate debate not on the merit of the work but on the larger points that we have interpreted from it.  Most often, it will be a conversation over ideas.  We are not experts here, but we are passionate about telling good stories that resonate with people, about the tradition of telling stories and understanding why, since the dawn of man, we’ve even bothered to do it all.

To that point, we’d like to emphasize our belief that any work of art that stimulates such discussion is still, at the very least, something worthwhile.  Something worth experiencing.  In our humble opinion, it makes for a significant contribution to the times in which we live.

Issue #2 / Quinby & Co.

where to begin? Mozart.

by J.L. Quinby

If you’re just getting into classical music, I think the best place to begin would be with Mozart. 

Why?  Because if you can’t get into Mozart, you probably won’t be into classical music.  Yea maybe that’s a crude way of putting it, but I think it’s true; and it’s a testament to the universality of his music, how much it encompassed all that came before and influenced all that would follow.  

Now the best piece to begin with is “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik,” and it’s safe to say that most people in the world have heard this charming little piece of music.  No doubt when you play the first movement in the serenade, you’ll probably recognize it.

But hey, it’s good to start off with something familiar, and this is just an introduction after all.  I think that for anyone overwhelmed by classical music, it’s helpful to begin with what you know, and this is as good a piece as any. 

It even feels like a invitation when you listen, like someone welcoming you to a party on some crisp evening by the river, just as the sun sets and the stars begin to appear over the hills. 

I think Mozart understood this well enough.  I can just picture him writing the title after composing it.  “Just a little something I wrote.  In fact, we’ll call it A little night music.”  

Begin with the first piece and let the whole serenade play.   It’s four movements so let them play right one after the other.  Each one is as lilting and lovely as the next.  

By the way, in my humble opinion, the best players of Mozart’s chamber music are Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, conducted by Sir Neville Marriner.

So without further ado, for your listening pleasure…here’s a little night music. We hope you enjoy.

Issue #2 / Quinby & Co.

 

 

A saw a film today, oh boy! 1917.

by J.L. Quinby

1917 is a story about two British soldiers in World War I sent by their commanding general to warn another battalion, currently preparing an assault on German forces, that they are walking into a trap and playing right into the hands of the enemy. One of the two soldiers has a brother in that battalion and thus a personal stake in warning them of the impending danger.

The film is directed by Sam Mendes (American Beauty), whose work I’ve increasingly admired since Road to Perdition–including two of the more recent Bond films starring Daniel Craig. Skyfall is actually my personal favorite in the whole series.

Anyway with 1917, Mendes reaches a new peak. Right from its opening scene, the film never lets go. This is no doubt aided by the one shot/one take method it employs, which involves shooting a scene in one shot, and thus one take, requiring the film’s cast and crew to be on-time and on-mark, fully synchronized as in a stage production. Personally, I love this style of shooting and I’m glad to see it being used more over the past few years. You might recall seeing it in Alejandro Iñárritu’s Birdman and The Revenant.

Much like those films, 1917 reminds us why it’s important to still see films in theaters; which, safe to say, is something slowly getting forgotten as we move further along into the digital streaming age and films become more accessible than ever before.

These feats of technical visual wizardry can only be truly appreciated in a theater, where audiences can better absorb stunning photography, vast landscapes and cutting-edge camerawork on a big screen, and perhaps better grasp the scope of what goes into staging such a large-scale production.

Seeing a film like this in a theater is a shared experience, one that allows us to get swept up in a visceral symphony of sight and sound, and thus–for a couple hours, at least–to forget the notion that we are total strangers from each other; which in the opinion of this humble filmgoer, is the real illusion.

Anyway to that point, I was reminded of the tremendous brutality, valor and sacrifice that form the fundamental components of war. Specifically, as is typically the case with the great war films or any effective telling of history, 1917 reminded me of my connection to those who have come before, and how much of our current world and thus our lives are shaped by history.

1917 is an a emotional, cathartic experience that honors, as much as any film is capable, the bravery of soldiers who fought for something bigger than themselves. Far from being mere escapism, it brought me closer to our world and history.

Issue #1
Q&Co.

a billion dollar question

by Sam D. Lyons

The New York Times sat down with each of the 2020 Democratic candidates a few months back and asked them the question: “Does anybody deserve to have a billion dollars?”

Deserve might be a strong word, but still, let’s say that person is an extremely virtuous, all-around beautiful human being with a heart of gold who does nothing but wonderful things. That person might deserve all the money in the world less because their moral character calls for a reward and more because it indicates what they might do with their acquired wealth.

I think, in theory, anyone deserves the money for which they’ve invested the time and labor; but that leads to the second question of whether that person actually worked for all the billion dollars they have. To what degree did their fortune depend on precisely that: fortune, or luck, or the ingenuity and sweat of other people?

Practically speaking, a billion dollars could be too much for any one person to have especially when it would likely be spent on the acquisition of things, which they’d pursue simply because they can and not because they actually need those things. How much of the fortune, conversely, would be invested in something that could make society better or more prosperous, like environmental causes or public infrastructure?

Might the ultimate measure, then, of whether someone deserves a billion dollars be what they plan to do with it? Would it be spent in such a way that would reflect their stake in others, or in a way that would serve and simply reflect their own ego?

Issue #1
Q&Co.