Critic as Artist or Critic vs. Artist

Critic as Artist or Critic vs. Artist

Is theatre criticism a learned craft , an organic art form, or both?

Put differently, are artists themselves not critics of sorts? And, are critics not also artists in their own right?

One need look no further than the writings of G.B. Shaw and Oscar Wilde for historical evidence that playwrights can write criticism that is both witty and personal and informed and theoretical.

The discussion of critics and reviews on the Parabasis blog continues along with today’s post “Who Owes What to Whom?”.  My most recent comments are below:

“The question of who owes what to whom (or the literary, ethical, and content obligations of reviewers and who is their primary audience) is an important one. But I’m not so sure I agree that potential audience members (if I’m reading Isaac correctly) are THE primary readers. From a dollars and cents, butts in seats standpoint, yes, potential audience members read reviews and, I’m sure, appreciate being provided an explanation for WHY a particular show seems well or poorly done and therefore (not) worth, say, the cost of a ticket. Particularly potential viewers for whom theatre going is a novelty. In which case, a single review’s ability to persuade them AGAINST seeing a show is a scary thing. Gives A LOT of power to the voice of the critic.

Regardless of whom critics perceive as their primary audience, the reality is that the audience/readers of theatre reviews are as much people in the theatre industry (practitioners (not just the ones whose show is being reviewed), teachers, students, funding bodies, and other critics) as non-theatre people (who may or may not pride themselves as supporters of “the arts”) looking for something fun to do on a Saturday night.

Perhaps, the cliche about, say, a lead actress, director, or playwright,etc. anxiously awaiting the arrival of reviews of their show that has just opened has lost its basis in reality, but I think we all know better. With that said, beyond basic human vanity or ego, those in the industry read reviews because they hope for and appreciate constructive feedback, whether it’s ultimately what they want to hear or not. And, while their is camaraderie in the theatre community, there is also good healthy competition, and so theatre folks read reviews to know what others are doing. Beyond this, reviews serve a practical purpose for theatre people, they are the stand-in, given how challenging it can be when you’re doing a show of your own to see those of others. All this said, I’m still left wondering, what qualifies one to be a theatre critic? Not what a review should or shouldn’t contain, but what credentials we believe critics should hold. I’ve posed and explored this particular point a bit on my own blog. As someone commented earlier this week on one of Isaac’s posts, ‘everyone’s a critic,’ but, seriously, given we ARE people who read reviews, just how much do we know about the critics who write these reviews? What qualifies them? The bios I’ve read of some critics make them little more qualified than ‘anyone’ else.”



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