Wednesday, 1 April 2015

The Four Qualities of the Critic

Okay, let me play fair.

Ultimately, this is all a justification of my life as a critic. There is no absolute distinction between reviewer and critic. And there are no rules about who can be a critic. If someone wants to call themselves a critic, or get a job reviewing, my rambles are only relevant if they care what I think. Fortunately, that doesn't matter.

It's a matter of pride, and turf war. I try to keep the idea of the critic clean so that I can claim some kind of status, and stop other writers wandering onto my patch. Keeping actors out of criticism is a selfish occupation. 

That isn't to say that makers writing about theatre is bad, just that it needs to be put in context. 

Having said all of that, I am going to tell you what I think a critic is - and when I have failed to be one. Then I am going to divide the critic into three categories (sorry, I'll probably be doing that stupid thing where I pretend to have summoned Aristotle back from the dead, again).

Chapter One: The Primary Qualities of a Critic

Of these. there are four. They may be said to be technical and emotional in nature. 

The Technical Qualities
Mr Dusc did this
An advanced literacy may be said to be the most essential of all skills possessed by the critic. Putting together a sentence in a manner coherent and charming, understanding the length of a paragraph for maximum readability: these are the foundation of all writing. 

Knowledge of context is a further necessity, although this is the least of all qualities. Being able to recognise the difference between a scripted play and a devised choreography is helpful. It enables authority and trust, and leaves not the author open to accusations of not knowing what they are watching.

The Emotional Qualities
Generosity is at the heart of a critical process: the generosity that
does not single out individuals and blame them for the failure of a work, recognising that all art is a collaboration. Generosity knows that it is subjectivity, and that what is seen is a function of the way it is seen. No artist makes bad work on purpose, and the bravery of artistic effort is to be respected. And generosity tries to understand what the piece is trying to achieve, and begin the critique from this understanding.

Yet honesty stands between generosity and lack of critique: the critic says what they see and what they feel (not what they wished for, or what might makes things 'better'). This is the only authority that the critic can claim: that they said what they felt - even if they have to apologise for it later. Like I have had to, on many occasions.

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