The Creativity of Criticism

This seminar launched the Languages of Criticism project, which brought together experts in literature, film, visual art and music to pursue a comparative investigation of criticism’s practices, their intellectual basis, and the potential for re-grounding and enriching them. While one strand of our discussions involved the sharing and reappraisal of theoretical frames, the more distinctive aspect was our concentration on criticism as practice: both linguistic practice (such as the role of metaphor, quotation, ekphrasis, paraphrase, and the interplay between description and argument) and institutional practice. This session introduced the project using examples from a variety of art forms to initiate questions regarding the creative possibilities of criticism.

Among those present were Céline Sabiron, Ben Morgan, Mohamed-Salah Omri, Emma Ben Ayoun, Bryony Skelton, James Bond, Kamile Vaupsaite, Ellen Jones, Giovanni Mezzano, Xiaofan Amy Li, G. Lawson Conquer, Mia Cuthbertson, Junting Huang, Rafe Hampson, Joseph Jenner, Gail Trimble, Scott Newman, Julia Bray, James Grant, Robert Chard, Simon Palfrey, Philippe Roussin, Laurent Châtel, Emily Troscianko, Natasha Ryan, Charlie Louth, David Bowe, Lucy Russell, Jane Hiddleston, Marie Isabel Matthews-Schlinzly, Anita Paz, Harriet Wragg, Benedict Morrison, Kate Leadbetter, Katerina Virvidaki, Sarah Leyla Puells A, Thomas Toles, Lianjiang Yu, Carole Bourne-Taylor.

In this session, we discussed the topic The Creativity of Criticism with short presentations by Andrew Klevan, Jason Gaiger, Martyn Harry, and Matthew Reynolds.


Andrew Klevan (Lecturer in Film Studies) played a clip from The Magnificent Ambersons, read out a passage of criticism about it, and then explained why he felt the passage of criticism had value, paying attention especially to its style. Listen to him here.

Matthew Reynolds (Lecturer in English) explored the borderline between perception and invention in literary criticism, discussing in particular Keats’s ‘On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer’ and a passages by Ali Smith and William Empson. The handout to which he referred is available here. Listen to him here.

Jason Gaiger (Head of the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art) conducted a thought experiment in which works from Tate Modern were given away to people to keep in their homes. He asked what role criticism can play when a work’s context and situation are more significant than its intrinsic qualities. A list of the artworks discussed is available. Listen to him here.

Martyn Harry (Composer and Lecturer in Music) explored how pieces of music can themselves function as works of criticism. Listen to him here.

The discussion probed many of the arguments made in the talks and raised new points, such as the relation between criticism and translation, and between criticism and commentary, and the different practices that might be thought of as criticism in different cultures.