By actual count there are 4,217 really good ideas in your five paragraphs. Well, maybe one or two less, but they’re all piquant and deserve response. Here’s a start:
Just as artists resent others laying their taste/biases/criteria on them, so might critics object when artists (or their enabling presenters, and I was one of those too) want the critics to genuflect before their own taste/etc.
Artists are entitled to make art any which way. Critics can respond any which way, though art is more important than criticism and thus that artists should in some sense lead the dialogue. A critic isn’t much good if he/she (oy, political correctness) can’t tell readers what it was they saw.
It would be nice to sync up the dialogue, to conduct on fully shared terms, but that would require length, conversations between artists and critics before and after the event, and that’s neither practical nor necessarily ideal, if the critic is to maintain some kind of independent voice.
There are few rules in this game. Critics and artists and everyone else who loves the arts (audiences, presenters, funders, etc.) are part of a conversation. Critics in daily newspapers may have a louder voice than some others in that conversation, tho their amplitude has been helpfully diminished by the rise of the feistily independent (or sometimes downright bitchy and mean) voices on the Internet.
There are few rules in this issue of contextualization, either. I’m not sure I quite buy your distinction between me and Anna Kisselgoff; I think we both tried to draw conclusions from the dance itself as well as from the surrounding context, though your description of our basic tendencies seems right. I just wrote a review (in the Dec. 14 NY Times) about three dances in Europe based on operas. I suppose another critic would have dug deeper into the essence of the choreographic styles of Sopheline Cheam Shapiro’s Cambodian dance “Magic Flute” or Johann Kresnik’s “Ring” or John Neumeier’s “Parzival.” I put them in context, of their own careers and of the relationship between their dramaturgical scenarios and the operas. Another critic would have done it differently, or not sought out the grouping of these three performances in the first place.
Every decent critic has a voice, just as every decent artist must. My voice has been shaped in part by the particulars of my education and professional career. I was trained as a cultural historian. Part of my junebug-like jumping from art to art was a true reflection of the breadth of my tastes, and I’ve tried to portray that breadth in my “Outsider” compilation as a virtue, which I think it has been. Part of it was born of serendipitous accidents of a career — the good luck to be in the right place when the Times needed a rock critic, the tempting offers out of the blue, like Lincoln Center or Arts & Leisure or dance — and part of my changes were driven by failure (going to Paris as European cultural correspondent when I didn’t get the chief classical music critic job in 1991). Joe Lelyveld, who denied me the classical job and sent me to Paris, has always said he did me a favor. Who knows? Two roads forking in the woods and such.
Anyhow, basta for now. Just out of curiosity: what are the stunts Beethoven pulled?