main: October 2008 Archives
One morning before too long, you will wake up and find last night's opera premiere reviewed in your paper by Covent Garden's chief executive and the new play at the National by a drizzle of audience comments.
The role of arts critic is being eroded and, unless we do something about it, discussion of the arts will soon be monopolised by promoters - as it is already on TV talent shows - and by the unaccountable whimsy of bloggers.
American newspapers are shedding critics as the first line of economy. In Britain review space has shrunk and some forms - television criticism, for instance - are being abolished.
Is that such a bad thing? I hear you ask. What are critics, anyway, except a bunch of curmudgeons who are paid to pour scorn over our favourite stars? Why do they so rarely have a nice word to say for new musicals?
Why, indeed. To answer that, you have to go back three hundred years to Swift and Addison who invented the profession of criticism - perhaps even further to Aristotle, who laid down the rules of aesthetics and the tradition of debate. What critics have done ever since is to apply expert analytical skills and years of experience to all they see and hear.
Most critics I know are inveterate optimists who go out night after night in the fond expectation of finding genius. Their disappointment is recorded more in sorrow than in rage, and their comments form an essential part of creative self-correction. Without critics, the arts go into reverse and democracy gives way to mob rule.
It is a thankless task, criticism. Artists hate being told where they went wrong and editors don't like to offend billionaire advertisers. It's a thankless job, but unless we cherish it, we stand to lose one of our oldest freedoms. So read the reviews this morning and enjoy the range of comment on the page. It may not be there forever.
And here's the URL for the ensuing Night Waves discussion with Andrew Dickson of Guardian online and Susannah Clapp of the Observer. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00dwgnk
All those who have been reading 'In a Critical Condtion' on this blog will be encouraged to know that the crisis in criticism theme has been picked up by BBC Radio 3.
Professional criticism is a pre-requisite of democracy. Free online reviews are weightless.
My big hero of the financial crash is Marcel Reich-Ranicki who, given an achievement award on German's second TV channel, ZDF, thrust it back at the presenter and denounced the whole of public television as 'rubbish'.
Reich-Ranicki, 88, is Germany's foremost literary critic and, as a result of his hour-long weekly discussion programme on the screen, a national figure. No respecter of reputations, he has fallen out with every leading author from Gunter Grass down when their books fell below his exalted standards. Now he has publicly bitten the hand that fed him - and the result is an attack of rabies panic among German media bosses.
In an effort to mitigate the shock of rejection, the awards show host Thomas Gottschalk offered to stage a televised debate between Reich-Ranicki and the heads of public television - an offer accepted with alacrity by the executives and, after appropriate reflection, by the critic himself. That is going to be one fun show.
The focus of Reich-Ranicki's attack was on the dumbing down of public broadcasting, the reliance on reality shows, talent contests and talentless celebrities. Gottschalk admitted in a subsequent interview that if television were made to the critic's rules, he would be unemployed.
Beyond the confines of a German spat, however, this has lessons for all of us who ply a trade in the creative arts. All my writing life, I have accepted persuasion from publishers and career makers to go on TV whenever asked, and on the BBC without a second thought. Now, I hardly ever accept without strict guarantees.
Television has become a dishonest medium, distorting facts to fit the visual image and contorting ideas into cliche. Information programmes, so called, are voyeuristic garbage and even sport has been subsumed by the cult of celebrity.
The time has come for all creative people to join the Reich-Ranicki rally and denounce public television for the rubbish it is - until the dustcarts come along and the act is cleaned up.
Let's all say No to TV.
Sign below to join the rally.
The guest on BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs this morning was David McVicar. He was introduced by Kirsty Young with a text that read something like 'at 42, he has long been regarded as the leading British opera director of his generation ... he is so busy around the world that his diary is filled up to 2013.'
I can't give you the exact words of the introduction since the programme is one of the very few that is not available on the BBc i-player, for reasons of 'rights ownership.'
However, I refuse to believe that a journalist of Kirsty Young's experience would recycle blether like this from a semi-literate press release and put it at the top of her show. Presumably some assistant producer or intern was assigned to the script.
The vacancy of that opening statement just takes the breath away. If McVicar was not a leader in his generation, what the hell was was he doing on a fame show like Desert Island Discs? For heaven's sake, tell the listeners something they don't know. And if his diary was not full until 2013 in a milieu where engagements are made 4-7 years in advance, he would be effectively unemployed and unworthy of appearing on the island. A glaring oxymoron and another waste of breath.
Does no-one at Radio 4 read the scripts before they go out on air? This sounds like amateur radio, and it's supposed to be a BBC flagship programme.
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Terry Teachout on the arts in New York City
Andrew Taylor on the business of arts & culture
rock culture approximately
Laura Collins-Hughes on arts, culture and coverage
Richard Kessler on arts education
Douglas McLennan's blog
Dalouge Smith advocates for the Arts
Art from the American Outback
For immediate release: the arts are marketable
No genre is the new genre
David Jays on theatre and dance
Paul Levy measures the Angles
Judith H. Dobrzynski on Culture
John Rockwell on the arts
Jan Herman - arts, media & culture with 'tude
Apollinaire Scherr talks about dance
Tobi Tobias on dance et al...
Howard Mandel's freelance Urban Improvisation
Focus on New Orleans. Jazz and Other Sounds
Doug Ramsey on Jazz and other matters...
Jeff Weinstein's Cultural Mixology
Martha Bayles on Film...
Fresh ideas on building arts communities
Greg Sandow performs a book-in-progress
Exploring Orchestras w/ Henry Fogel
Harvey Sachs on music, and various digressions
Bruce Brubaker on all things Piano
Kyle Gann on music after the fact
Greg Sandow on the future of Classical Music
Norman Lebrecht on Shifting Sound Worlds
Jerome Weeks on Books
Scott McLemee on books, ideas & trash-culture ephemera
Wendy Rosenfield: covering drama, onstage and off
Chloe Veltman on how culture will save the world
Public Art, Public Space
Regina Hackett takes her Art To Go
John Perreault's art diary
Lee Rosenbaum's Cultural Commentary
Tyler Green's modern & contemporary art blog