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Criticising Criticism

Vivek Gokhale

Translated by Saee Pawar

Usually when people agree about something, no one thinks to ask ‘why is there a consensus?’; but everyone wants a definite reason for a difference of opinion. Not only that, this reason must be adequate, compelling or justifiable. If it is not, it is ignored. Therefore when we try to go deeper and find a reason for disagreement, questions like (1) what did I say, (2) what did I mean, (3) what went wrong in your understanding, and (4) how it happened, come forth. This then leads to search of answers to dispel the disagreement. What else is criticism? It is safe to say that criticism comes naturally to any thinking individual.

I don’t think my education had any meaning other than passing exams until my B.A. However, while studying Ethics in M.A. I came across something interesting. G. E. Moore has, in his introduction to ‘Principia Ethica’, written that the question ‘what is good?’ has two meanings: (1) What is the meaning of the word 'good'? And (2) what all is good? This book was written solely to clarify a perspective on how confusing the discourse on Morality turned when people, even thinkers, quite confidently answered this second question without thinking about the first. When I got an opportunity to study it from learned professors, I understood what education is all about and began taking an interest in it. While studying a chapter on Advaita Vedanta, Shankaracharya's meticulous analysis showed how easy it is to refute opposing opinions if the basic principle is clearly understood. Now my education was becoming purposeful. Later, I became a professor of philosophy.

While reading Mardhekar's 'Beauty and Literature' (Kuḷakarṇī, 1982) to a senior Marathi professor, I noticed that I was agreeing with his standpoint of art being purely for art’s sake. Later, it was interesting to see that he had many critics in the field of Literature and Philosophy. At the same time, I sensed the importance of Mardhekar. Thinking that being able to answer these critics would be a sign of understanding Mardhekar, I started studying him, which resulted in a thesis ‘Mardhekar’s Aesthetics’. Incidentally, I wrote articles on perspectives like art for art’s sake and art for life’s sake. While doing all this, thoughts of R. B. Patankar, Vinda Karandikar, Gangadhar Gadgil etc. had to be taken into consideration. I found that their art theory was limited to literature. On the other hand, Mardhekar presents the idea of literature through the application of the medium-body framework by thinking philosophically about art. As it considers the differences in media, it can also apply to music and painting. Therefore, there is a difference of one step in the thinking of Mardhekar and other thinkers. The nature of the criticism perceived by me in all these studies should be clear from the following note. I think it would be useful for art criticism or even criticism of a criticism. I would welcome a criticism of my overall views from the readers.

The notes made to consider the presented subject matter are as follows:

0. Preparing for a criticism implies experiencing the object of the criticism. (The reference here is mainly of art, artwork, aesthetic. But this analysis can be applied to other values such as morality, existence.)

An aesthetic value manifested in a perceptible object is self-contained, independent and autonomous; it is inexplicable yet a coherent value. If there are man-made objects instead of natural ones, that is, in terms of art, this is called artistic value. ‘Beauty’ is a word that is not suitable here, as it has a very broad meaning. Here, apperception is the measure, not deduction.

2. ‘Reason’ means necessary and sufficient conditions.

3. ‘Tool’ is a sufficient condition for which an alternative is possible.

4. Since aesthetic value is self-contained, the question of creating it or giving it a reason should not arise at all; however this is ignored by some and they end up using the language of causation to assert ‘this thing is beautiful because it is this way/ because this happened’. Instead, it would be appropriate to use descriptive language for example, 'this artwork is like ...'.

5. Beauty, as in aesthetic value, is always being expressed somewhere in nature. In other words, many natural objects are quite beautiful. In that case, (1) What is the role/responsibility of the artist in revealing the beauty in the form of an artwork? Or (2) Why insist on expressing it through an art form? Or (3) We do not understand how natural objects are connected to aesthetic value; but how do humans connect it to artwork, how are they able to? What is the role of an artist in relation to their artwork? What do they do or rather what is left for them to do? Such questions should emerge more often. Luckily, when it comes to the creation of the artwork the artist calls themself an excuse or a cause for the art to exist without taking on the pedestal of the creator. But what is the difference between a cause and a creator? Answers to such questions are not easy. These questions can emerge, should emerge. Because if varied questions like these don’t come up and we don’t understand the difference between them, we might end up answering random questions while neglecting the important/distinguished ones to get false satisfaction, and unknowingly create an incomprehensible confusion in the field of art. What can we say! As a consequence of not understanding, with nuance, the language of the question ‘what is good?’, that is, the difference between two implied questions- (a) What is the meaning/definition of ‘good’ and (b) Which things are good, we assume that ‘happiness’, which is one possible answer to the question (b) to be the answer to (a) as well. Through this confusion, J. S. Mill’s Utilitarianism was born, grew prominent and detrimental things like consumerism and materialism led us in the wrong direction. From Gangadhar Gadgil’s analysis of Phadake and Khandekar in the article ‘नव कथेचे स्वरूप’ from his book ‘खडक आणि पाणी’(Gāḍagīḷa, 1966) as well as his accurate analysis in the article ‘काव्याचा अर्थ: एक उलट तपासणी’ it seems that-

5.1 Even the artist tends to call themself a cause instead of taking credit for creation of the art. In relation to the objective of the artwork, what can be the nature of the artist’s intention in the process of creating the artwork? In order to understand this, the distinction between artefact and artwork is discussed extensively in this article. And for that one needs to have aesthetic emotions and sensitivity toward aesthetics. We should remember that self-contained artistic value does not create aesthetic appreciation, only knows it. Similarly if the goal is to create a mere sensory object instead of creation of an artefact which articulates expression of artistic value, then what is the need for understanding and sensitivity toward aesthetics? There never is. How is the relation of qualities of an object or an artefact with the artistic values responsible for it being an artwork? It is mediative, not causal. If it were causal, it would have been possible to speak objectively about the artwork. Because there is no such relation between the two, a successful composition of a medium (artefact) with aesthetic intention is regarded as an artwork. If we agree to this definition of an artwork and if we think that the only way to create an artwork is to maintain uniformity between pre-creation and post-creation state of the subject matter, then it proves desirable that the critic who compares two works be the creator of those works themself. While it is desirable that someone who experiments with a medium should be knowledgeable of its classical form, it is not always the case. Knowing this affects the quality of the experiment. A critic must be aware of this, but many are not. Not only that, many are indifferent to it.

6. 0 An art critic should know the following:

6.1 They have to experience the artwork. That is most important.

6.2 Artwork is a combination of artifacts and artistic values.

6.3 Artifacts are the composition of matter of an art medium. It is sensual, cosmic.

6.4 There is no question of creating art-value. It is self-evident. It is miraculous, inanimate; but even so, it has to rely on worldly, sensual things to be experienced. Just as the soul of an animal needs to be expressed and experienced, through the material body.

6.5 In order to understand the similarities and differences between the art forms like story, poem or Khyal, Thumri, Bhajan etc. and how they relate to the artistic value, the formula from Logic stating that- ‘during division, the qualities of dividend remain in the quotient while characteristics of divisor are attributed to it as well’ can be a of great help. In other words, since Khyal and Thumri are branches of music, they have musicality; but Khyal also has its own characteristics that distinguish it from other forms of music, such as Thumri.

6.6 It is important to remember that art related self-experience should be used to understand the nature of the artwork and of the efforts taken by the artist in the process of its creation but one should be careful not to use self-experience as a standard for evaluation in the process of criticism. When this does not happen, the difference between a disagreement and an error is ignored and confusion ensues.

6.7 Knowing the exact scientific meanings of relativity-neutrality, objectivity-subjectivity only helps to reduce ideological confusion.

6.8 The nature and function of the medium, and its relation to the art and artwork.

6.9 The difference between intentional and incidental consequences.

6.10 The nature of the possible relationship between the essence of artifact and the value of artwork.

6.11 Aesthetic statement: (a) what it does, (b) what it is, or (c) what it wants to do, and (d) what it does not.

6.12 Meaning of ‘well-formed formulae’.

6.13 Relation between different values in the context of goal-medium.

6.14 Distinction between an error and a difference of opinion.

6.15 What is the meaning of phrases like ‘logic of art, religion, science, etc.’?

6.16 Difference between criticism and remarks. Both are expressions of opinion but unlike a remark, criticism offers a justification/argument. (Gangadhar Gadgil's remark that "aesthetics is a fad" was merely a remark and not the result of a valid argument.) It is worth surveying how many critics in different fields of art are aware of this.

7.0 In context of the points mentioned above, let's see what a critic who criticizes the criticism should be aware of.

7.1 (a) Criticizing a criticism entails reflecting on things like whether a critic has done what they are supposed to do, how they have done it (well, right, with encouragement), if done is there any distinguishing feature, or if there is a shortcoming analysing the reasons behind it, etc. This can sometimes involve checking one’s fundamental perspective regarding criticism and related things.

(b) Just as one needs to experience the artwork and have perspectives like Art for Art’s sake, Art for Life’s sake and Marxism while analysing an artwork; while analyzing a criticism one needs to experience the artwork and the respective criticism of it, and have a point of view about value and form of art supported by perspectives on the topic of criticism like Art for Art’s sake, Art for Life’s sake etc. For example, one needs to have a rational and definite opinion about whether the artistic value is independent, autonomous, achievable etc. or what is the interrelationship between different values.

(c) The vast majority of meta-criticism is philosophical, so it is impossible to properly criticize a criticism without knowing the relevant part of the philosophy, or at the least one needs to have miraculously innate and unfathomable knowledge. Most critics in Marathi have not even considered thinking about point (b) given above and that is why almost all criticisms except for those of ‘M. P. Rege’ have failed; and Rege never understood the position of Mardhekar and made a mistake in the application of techniques of Logic. The same thing must have happened with the critics who object to new poetry and new stories.

7.2. If the field of art is to be autonomous, then the criterion for reviewing works of art should be artistic and not moral, social, truthful, etc. They can be a consequential development/side effect. It should be considered inappropriate if a mediocre work of art is considered superior to an artwork of high quality on the basis of these consequential aspects, going by the logic of ‘अधिकस्याधिकं फलम्’ or ‘One who does more is rewarded more’. (In awarding Dnyaanpeeth award, one has to rethink how justifiable is the insistence on taking life values into consideration outside of artistic value. Because it neglects the fact that art value in the respective artwork becomes a tool for other consequential values; thus while the Dnyaanpeeth award is considered to be a purely artistic award, it should be noted that it is a misconception.)

7.3 The form of artistic value described in '1' should be remembered and it should always be the objective above all else.

7.4 One should not confuse the objective with the consequential scale. This confusion can happen in two ways:

It is different if the artwork identifies with something that has a social, religious, moral implication and it is different to have the purpose of the artwork be social, religious, moral etc. Where the second thing is taboo as it invades the freedom and autonomy of art, the first thing is desirable, as it helps the subject to get its natural shape (i.e. to make it artistic).

7.5 Many works of art in Marathi do not suggest that an artwork should be an object of art that has succeeded in embodying the value of art in a clear or expressive way. (No one except Mardhekar, not even Patankar or Vinda Karandikar.)

7.6 For the reason given above, critics have not been able to come up with a coherent and complete strategy of criticism and artistic concept. The sign of being able to design such a strategy is that one should be able to classify anything in the world, including the artwork being criticized, into one of the three classes namely p, negation p (~p) and un- p, (which is exclusive of p and not-p together) without contradiction. In context of art, p=having art value; ~p=not having art value and not p=apart from art value having values of morality, religion etc.

7.7 One should know the difference between Art for Art’s sake, Art for Life’s sake, Formalism etc. and the reasons for it.

7.8 There should be an opinion supported by reason and rationality as to which of the following should be the basis of criticism and aesthetics, whether the criticism should be based on aesthetics or if the nature of aesthetics should depend on the form of criticism.

7.9 One should be aware of the strengths and limitations of any role.

7.10 Not realizing that it is inappropriate to ‘think of an opinion to be wrong because it differs from yours’. Often this is due to a lack of logical awareness of the types of statements (distinct, attached, accredited etc.).

8. Out of (1) What is a criticism, (2) how it should be, and (3) why it should be a particular way, (1) and (2) are talked about often but (3) is ignored. Why does this happen? One reason may be that no one felt the need for it, or that the interdisciplinary study of literature, (i.e., literature and philosophy) may have lagged behind. Here, Aristotle's opinion on reason should be helpful.

8.1 To criticise is to reveal and explain the nature of the criticism being reviewed; and to tell how and to what extent the creator has succeeded in doing so with backing and analysis. These are the words given in a dictionary for the term criticism: 1. investigation, 2. search, 3. close/thorough inspection, 4. essential nature or truth, 5. essential nature, 6. essential principle, deep reflection, inquiry. A critic is the one who criticisms/reviews. The object of criticism can be anything, e.g. River, table, rangoli, picture, poem, a song from a movie, traffic rules like walking from left etc.; Therefore, in order to criticize them, the critic has to have the ability to understand their temperament. But what is temperament? The nature of an object, its composition, its being, its components and their composition. Aristotle explains the nature of an object by giving four types of reasons: 1. material, 2. final, 3. formal, 4. efficient. Reasons for a table: 1. Wood etc., 2. Tools (for writing, eating, etc.), 3. Its shape or composition, 4. Carpenter and his tools like saw, hammer etc. If we take the example of music, 1. Musical note-rhythm, 2. Simple musical pleasure, 3. A composition like Khyal or Bhavageet, 4. an instrument or a melodious voice; If taken example of literature, 1. Words, meanings, 2. Ideological, emotional expression, 3. Essays, Poems, 4. Language and its titles, symptoms, consonantal power.


Gāḍagīḷa, Gaṅgādhara Gopāla. Khaḍaka āṇi pāṇī. India, Pôpyulara Prakāśana, 1966.

Hare, R. M.. The Language of Morals. United Kingdom, OUP Oxford, 1963.

Kuḷakarṇī, Da. Bhi. Marḍhekarāñce saundaryaśāstra: punḥsthāpanā. India, Amey

Prakāśana, 1982.

Moore, G. E., and Moore, Professor of Philosophy & Fellow G E. Principia Ethica. N.p.,

Independently Published, 2018.

Mill, John Stuart. Utilitarianism. United Kingdom, Fb&c Limited, 2017.


Aesthetics - Aesthetics, or esthetics, is a branch of philosophy that deals with the nature of beauty and taste, as well as the philosophy of art. It examines subjective and sensori-emotional values, or sometimes called judgments of sentiment and taste.

B. S. Mardekar - Bal Sitaram Mardhekar (1909 –1956) was a Marathi writer who brought about a radical shift of sensibility in Marathi poetry. Mardhekar brought a decadent urban ethos into Marathi poetry. Marathi bhakti (भक्ति) poetry and the poetry of T. S. Eliot and W. H. Auden had an influence on him. Mardhekar was also an influential critic and an experimental novelist. He attempted to bring in the consciousness technique in Marathi novels.

Consumerism - Consumerism is the idea that increasing consumption of goods and services purchased in the market is always a desirable goal and that a person's wellbeing and happiness depends fundamentally on obtaining consumer goods and material possessions.

J. E. Moore’ Principia Ethica - Principia Ethica is a 1903 book by the British philosopher G. E. Moore, in which the author insists on the indefinability of "good" and provides an exposition of the naturalistic fallacy. Principia Ethica was influential, and Moore's arguments were long regarded as path-breaking advances in moral philosophy. Moore suggests that ethics is about three basic questions: (1) "what is good?", (2) "what things are good or bad in themselves?", and (3) "what is good as a means?”

Materialism - Materialism is a personal attitude which attaches importance to acquiring and consuming material goods. Materialism signifies a preoccupation with materiality and material processes.

वस्तुगतता-आत्मगतता/Objectivity-Subjectivity - One particular dualism that is prevalent in today's socio-cultural theory is that of objectivity and subjectivity. Objectivity is a theoretical perspective that is omniscient, neutral, and detatched with respect to a certain attribute or set of attributes. Subjectivity, on the other hand, is the opposite condition, of being located within one's personal feelings and opinions. objectivity is the concept of truth independent from individual subjectivity (bias caused by one's perception, emotions, or imagination). A proposition is considered to have objective truth when its truth conditions are met without bias caused by a sentient subject.

सापेक्षता-निरपेक्षता/Relativity-Neutrality - The distinction between an agent-relative reason, rule, or value, and an agent-neutral reason, rule, or value is widely recognized as one of the most important distinctions in value theory. The agent-relative/agent-neutral distinction is widely and rightly regarded as a philosophically important one. Unfortunately, the distinction is often drawn in different and mutually incompatible ways. The agent-relative/agent-neutral distinction has historically been drawn in three main ways: the ‘principle-based distinction’, the ‘reason-statement-based distinction’ and the ‘perspective-based distinction’.

Example, agent relativity: Each agent must not kill innocent people. And agent neutrality: Each agent must minimize the killing of innocent people.

Shankaracharya- Adi Shankaracharya was an Indian philosopher and theologian who consolidated the doctrine of Advaita Vedanta. He is credited with unifying and establishing the main currents of thought in Hinduism.

Utilitarianism by J. S. Mill - John Stuart Mill (1806–1873) was the most famous and influential British philosopher of the nineteenth century. Mill defines utilitarianism as a theory based on the principle that "actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness." Mill defines happiness as pleasure and the absence of pain. He argues that pleasure can differ in quality and quantity, and that pleasures that are rooted in one's higher faculties should be weighted more heavily than baser pleasures.

Vivek Gokhale has worked as a Reader at the Government College Vidarbha Mahavidyalaya, Amravati from 1967 to 2002. He received his third PhD in 2020 on the topic of ‘the importance of production and taste processes in the criticism of music. Prof. Gokhale has published many books like ‘Mardhekar and Critics: who is delusion?’ which received Kavi Anil Smruti Samiksha Award; 'In the musical of Curiosity' which received G. T. Deshpande Janmashatabdi Special Award; and ‘Two Speakers on the Art form of Literature: Mardhekar and Vinda Karandikar’. While teaching the books R. M. Hare’s ‘Language of Morals’ to the students of MA Philosophy he thought of the topic ‘Language of Aesthetics’ for D. Lit. He is currently doing further research on this topic.


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