A bearded dweeb with a bad tie boring us senseless with his obscure expertise.

by Jane

Isn’t interesting how when you talk or write about something, you start to notice stands of it coming out of every nook and cranny? Coming off my blog on why I blog and review, and think it’s important to have young voices, I was linked the next night through You’ve Cott Mail (which is the best arts email to arrive in my inbox – I am constantly finding inspiration and news I wouldn’t find anywhere else, highly recommended) to Michael Phillip’s writing for the Chicago Tribune in Right to an opinion – – or wrong?, about a critic was fired after editors thought his bias against the Cleveland Orchestra.   He has some wonderful thoughts:

Approached the wrong way criticism is an inherently arrogant and narcissistic pursuit, yet what I’m left with, increasingly, is how humbling it is. It’s hard to get a review right for yourself, let alone for anyone reading it later. It’s even harder to be an artist worth writing and reading about, because so much conspires against even an inspired artist’s bravest efforts.

It is exceedingly rare when I don’t struggle a little in reviewing a show, I certainly feel this responsibility to “get it right” just for me, and then trying to work out have I phrased this best for others to read?  Have I been fair?  Sometimes I just write and I feel like I got it on the first try, with very little editing (and these are exclusively raves), but most of the time there are hours of editing and re-wording and deleting and re-writing before I feel I am close to something I can publish. He finishes off by saying:

But a critic must write as if he has everything and nothing to lose, just as a filmmaker or an artistic director or a music director should have no choice but to aim high and dig deeply and damn all the rest of it. Otherwise, it’s steady as she goes and one more paycheck (if you’re fortunate) gratefully received, and that simply is not good enough.

I think I still have a way to go on this front, but I like to think I’m getting there.

After reading that, one of my favourite arts writers / critics, Alison Croggon re-tweeted  a link to Brisbane based blog Greenroom writing On Criticism . . . and in turn that lead me to some more great thoughts, in particular Mark Mordue, winner of this year’s Pascall Prize for Critical Writing (so, you know, I guess he’s okay…), who wrote Pioneers in Digital Snow which really needs to be read in full and lent me the title for this post, but I’ll pull out my favourite quote:

And yet it’s always been my contention that great criticism is about love more than hate, construction more than destruction. That in many ways what a good critic does is nearer to the task of a translator who has found a way of channeling one form of language into another. And in some cases even improving on the original source, sacrilegious as that might sound.

I am just a little in love with this paragraph, filled with thoughts and words which I just keep swirling around in my head, trying to extract out every last piece of flavour.

Later that night, I stumbled apon Michael Billington, critic for The Guardian, writing that a critic must have the ability to write, insatiable curiosity, a point-of-view, and stamina.   My favourite thing about this article was actually one of the comments, comparing the career of a reviewer to the character of Tom in An Enemy Of The People – talk about things falling in to place.   I’m not sure I quite follow their chain of thought: I wouldn’t say anything I write about theatre is comparable to trying to save a village of people from cholera, but an interesting parallel, and certainly supports my argument that when something appears somewhere, it appears everywhere.

I was then re-linked to an article I read months ago, where for the New York Times Charles Isherwood answers readers questions, and says:

[Critics] are, indeed, intermediaries between the public and the artists, although many artists would argue that no intercession is necessary – or advisable – in that relationship. It’s a tricky business sometimes because in one sense we want to be advocates for the audience, gauging the merits of a show in the complicated marketplace of contemporary theater. But most critics also want to advocate for good art.

Maybe the best analogy is to consider us aesthetic referees – calling ‘em like we see ‘em. That is the ideal anyway. My responsibility is to write honestly, and (I hope) with eloquence and understanding and maybe even passion about what I see.

I love this, because of course the reason I want to write about the theatre is because I want to be an advocate for the theatre, which I think makes writing a bad review so much harder.

It’s the writing about writing from these people which almost makes me feel maybe I don’t know enough at 21 to be doing this.  But then I think, how else am I going to learn?  And sure, I may not be as eloquent as these writers, but that doesn’t make what I have to say any less important.

Sophie has also blogged about blogging and has put out a call-to-arms to the Adelaide theatre community to get a blogging community.  Melbourne and (particularly) Sydney, have great theatre-blogging communities, and there are so many people here with something to say, I think we can really get something great happening.  So, if you’re in the audience, come and join us, and if you’re behind the stage, come and join Brink and let’s start the revolution!

On another note: next week I’m off to Junction 2010 in Launceston, as a part of the team for Lowdown.  As of yet I’m not entirely sure what I’ll be writing about, or in what format I’ll be writing, but I’ll be sure to leave links to follow to your heart’s content.  I’m just a little ecstatic happy about the whole thing.