Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Praise and Criticism

Artists crave praise and dread criticism, and yet we keep putting it out there before the public, hoping for the former and fearing the latter. Tell me how great my painting, playing, acting is, but oh please don’t tell me I suck. Our egos are huge but delicate. Being an artist takes a lot of guts. 
As a critic I’ve come to be constantly aware of this. We critics have the power to make a performer feel like a king or a queen for a little while, but despite some popular notions we have very little ability to make or break an artist’s career. Among the many factors that can contribute to a successful or unsuccessful run, a good or bad review is probably the least important, but it can hugely impact an artists’ feelings.
I first became an art critic some 30-something years ago because I loved visual art. I loved making art and talking about art. I had spent most of my life as a painter and a good number of years as a teacher, both in college and in public schools, so I thought I knew a thing or two about visual art. I wanted to be able to promote the good artists who showed their work in area galleries, and I—perhaps somewhat arrogantly—wanted to teach people how to judge art for themselves. I had heard people who probably should have taken an art appreciation course at some point in their lives praise art that was mediocre at best and pure crap at worse, and I thought maybe I could show them the error of their ways. I had seen great art by unknown artists, and I hoped to be able to get people to flock to their shows.
I first became a theater critic because I needed the work and it fell into my lap. I knew very little about theater at the time, and was astounded that I was offered the job. Now, after more than 700 plays in the past 13 or so years (I can’t remember exactly when I started), I have begun to think I know a little bit about theater.
My primary motive for writing reviews remains my love of the arts. Plus, I still need the job. But the more I do this job, the more I am aware of how my words of praise or criticism might affect the artists I write about. I love it when I can praise a show. I love it when people tell me they went to see an art exhibition or a play because of my review and that they loved it. I also feel a responsibility to let people know when I don’t think a play is worth the ticket price. Theater tickets can be pretty damn expensive. As for the actors, the painters, the writers, I am so happy to be able to praise them in print. If I feel I have to criticize them, I hope I can do it in the spirit of a teacher saying this is why this particular performance didn’t work, and this is how you might be able to make it better next time.
And like the artists whose work I write about, I like to hear when I’m doing it right; and though I might cringe at the thought, I also want to hear when I do it wrong. So please feel free to comment on anything I post on this blog.

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