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What are Critical Sources?
Critical sources, also called criticism, are those that describe, evaluate, analyze, summarize, or interpret various creative endeavors including art, music, literature, drama and film. Criticism may be general, covering the work of several individuals who have something in common (e.g., living at the same time and/or working in the same field), such as an article on women writers or a book comparing the works of British poets from the Romantic era. Criticism may also be specific and focus on the entire career of one individual, such as a book about Picasso's paintings; or it may even only discuss one work by the individual, or works created during a specific period of the individual's life, such as an article discussing Picasso's "blue" period.
Creative works are open to interpretation; there is often no "right" answer as to what an author or other creative artist meant for you to get from his work, and if you are unfamiliar with the artist's field or time period, or with the artist himself, critical sources can provide invaluable background information. Critics are usually quite learned in their field and can enrich your understanding of a subject.
Evaluate the criticism you find; not all criticism is created equal. Sometimes critics, like specialists in other fields (such as academia), use unnecessarily technical language and appear to be trying to confuse or impress rather than to express ideas. Whenever you sense that a critic's main goal is something other than illumination of his subject, pick another source; there are plenty of other fish in the sea of criticism.
Another thing to keep in mind is that even the best criticism is still just someone's opinion, and doesn't necessarily represent "the answer." Even if you disagree with a critic's interpretation, such a source may help you clarify your own point of view. Reading criticism is not a substitute for reading, viewing, or hearing the original work; rather, criticism exists to assist you in developing your own interpretation.
The reference section is an excellent starting point when you are looking for criticism, especially literary criticism. Many reference books contain a combination of biographical and critical information on various writers and works. Most of these sources contain general criticism on a variety of authors who have something in common. For that reason, when approaching reference sources, it is important to know the answers to the following questions:
Look for criticism in the following reference sources:
British writers classics.
The Columbia companion to the twentieth-century American short story.
Contemporary literary criticism.
Lives of the poets.
Masterpieces of women's literature.
Nineteenth century French fiction writers: Romanticism and Realism, 1800-1860.
Nineteenth-century literature criticism.
Short story criticism.
Twentieth-century literary criticism.
When searching for criticism on the Shorter library catalog, the most important thing to keep in mind is that you are searching for the artist as a subject because you want books written about the individual, rather than books written by him. When you pull up all the books about an individual, those which are most useful as critical sources will include "Criticism and Interpretation" as part of the subject heading; for example, "Faulkner, William, 1897 - 1962-Criticism and Interpretation".
If your artist is someone who is a relative newcomer, or not well known outside his creative field, it's possible that information will only be available in journal or magazine articles, since they are published more frequently than books-and also tend to be the most current sources available. To find critical articles, just as to find criticism in books, you will need to search for your artist as a subject. Instead of searching the online catalog, however, you search for articles in indexes, which are listings of articles by subject and by year of the article's publication.
A large majority of critical articles will be in the form of book reviews, which are critical essays designed to tell their readers whether a book is worth reading. Book reviews may be very short and often do not provide enough information to be considered serious criticism. However, book reviews published in scholarly journals often go into great depth and may indeed be considered criticism. In order to find a book review, you need to know the year in which the book was first published (check for the earliest copyright date on the back of the title page). If you don't find a review listed in an index covering the date of your book's publication, check an index for the following year.
Two indexes owned by the Shorter University Library which list book reviews exclusively are:
Book review digest, 1905 - current.
Book review index, 1972 - 1998.
Other indexes which include book reviews and are accessible through the Shorter University Libraries are:
Humanities index, April 1974 - current.
Music index, 1949 - 1985 and 1989 (print).
New York Times index, 1960 - 1986 (print).
Readers' Guide, 1922 - 2003 (print).
Religion index one (RIO), 1971 - current.
Social sciences index, April 1940 - 2003.
The Internet Public Library's list of hundreds of literary criticism and biography web sites arranged by author, subject, and time period.
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