7.06.2009

Art versus Critics

I don't know that any of this posting is true, or accurate, but it feels right. Here goes.

Let’s assume for the moment that I am not particularly thin-skinned. Also, I can take criticism. Granted, those are two big Ifs, let’s just take it as a thought problem for the moment. Now add to the mix: I am a working artist (insert any number of jokes here). I might do any kind of art – theater, creative non-fiction, visual art, music, or I could be the kind of guy who makes a living not out of doing anything, but for being who I am in an exceptionally entertaining way. If all this is true (not thin-skinned, take crit, working artist), I probably still don’t like critics. Well, maybe I like just that one guy, just to show how open-minded I can be, but that’s just tokenism. The exception that proves the rule.

Part of the problem is that I don’t know what the critic’s job is. I mean, I can go on and on about what the job should be, but I don’t really know. I haven’t gone to the critic’s boss to find out what her job description is, but I state with confidence that I don’t need to. See, knowing the should gives me power. Really it doesn’t give me anything more than an opinion. I'm an idealist trapped in a realistic world. I know that my Ideal Critic doesn’t obey my Shoulds, but I don’t let it bother me in the abstract, because I know the Real World doesn’t operate that way. I can’t help let it bother me in the concrete, though, which is why I don’t like Critics, except that one guy. No, he doesn’t like all my shows, I’m not a shill for him anymore than he is for me. We’re above that kind of thing, that’s how cool we are.

I wrote about some of the job factors that theater critics might have, outlined not from my own belief system but from what I’ve heard people talk about or comment on. And then there’s the whole sales issue – you know, a critic can make or break a play, a gallery show, a film (except anything by George Lucas, who seems to be critic-proof). Separately I wrote about their audiences, and the fact that one of their audiences is their reading public, not the artists’ viewing (or listening) public.

This next bit is just supposition, but it sounds right to me so I’m writing it down. I think one of the big reasons that artists generally don’t like critics is that they remind us of commerce.

That’s badly phrased.

They remind us that we sell our art or that we sell access to our art. That there is a wholly commercial element to our sacred work.

We justify our own participation – gotta make mortgage, gotta buy groceries, I worked hard on this, there’s the materials to take into account, doesn’t my craft count for anything, how can you put a price on expression. Oh, wait, I just did – I charged you twenty dollars to come to my show. Ahem. Well. It’s a bargain.

It’s not like critics shove this fact down our throats. But just by doing their jobs, just by being, they remind us on some level that we are dependent on sales.

What a bunch of jerks.

p.s. here’s a former critic turned playwright on the subject of critics writing about new plays.

Next Criticism: Solution one, professional peers.

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