GET PAST THE NEED TO BE ARTS SUPPORTERS
Philip L. Kennicott,
Music Critic, Washington
enjoyed your analysis of current arts criticism. I'd like
to add a few comments. Although the issue of access is not
so important for a classical music critic (composers and performers
are so desperate for coverage that they rarely refuse to talk)
there are other pressures that can be brought to bear against
significant is the pressure that prominent musicians can exert
directly on one's employer. Second, it seems to me that in
the 1980s (when I was first getting started) the difficulty
that non-profit arts organizations faced created unhealthy
if informal alliances between music critics and artists.
The role of the critic was to support the local institution,
which was always perceived to be troubled. There was no small
amount of self-interest in this role as unofficial institutional
booster; if there are no arts to cover, there is little need
for arts criticism.
think it's essential for arts critics to get past this perceived
need to be arts supporters. If, for instance, classical music
is dying, then someone has to report objectively on what that
death looks and feels like.
role as objective reporter doesn't, however, preclude what
you term "setting an aesthetic agenda" (in the role of critical
provacateur). I've tried to do both, and have consciously
set several priorities (resisting the relapse into tonalism,
insisting on the revival of serial works banished two decades,
reinstating the possibility that there may be a distinction
between high and low art).
agenda has been mostly abandoned by orchestras, which is why
it needs defense from an activist critical community.
HEALTHY CRITICAL CLIMATE NEEDS COMPETING OPINIONS
Les Gutman, Associate
very good piece missed Walter Kirn's interesting take on the
subject (from the perspective of a book reviewer/author),
"Remember When Books Mattered". NYT Book Review (2/4/01).
me make an additional point or two, as one who reviews theater
in New York City for a smaller publication. Leonard Slatkin
is upset with The Washington Post not because Philip Kennicott
doesn't like him, but rather because The Post is essentially
the only game in town.
healthy critical environment depends on an audience that reads
competing opinions. What's really upsetting is that there
is not such an audience in most cities. The question open
to discussion, then, is whether, knowing this, the 800 pound
gorilla has an obligation to report fairly (inform readers
what audiences think, etc.) rather than calling things as
it sees them. A reasonable question.
New York, there is a fairly broad discourse on theater in
the print media. While it is an overstatement to say the Times
can kill a show, it's equally wrong to say it can't. Well-funded
Broadway (and some off-Broadway) shows can spend enough on
advertising to be critic-proof, but the lion's share of theater
does indeed depend on reviews, and on the Times in particular.
is now also significant internet-based coverage. This further
expands the available criticism, as well as making it more
accessible, and it also lends itself well to the sort of discussion
between creators and critics your article finds generally
lacking. It's a hopeful sign.