09/09/2011 at 4:35 pm 1 comment

Somehow another bloggiversary slipped on past while I was busy making other plans. Two years and counting. There’s always a lot happening this time of year, so you may have to forgive my brevity of celebrations. But meanwhile I have been intending to take stock on the why and wherefore of this weblog and how things have changed since I began.

Some basic changes are listed on the page titled “between ideas and understanding“. When I first began it was a virtual conceit, being underwhelmed by the quality of mainstream criticism – I felt my complaints weren’t worth the paper they were writ on if I was not engaging in some form of theatre criticism myself. The general principle has not changed: from a disdain for the writers who nitpick actor or directorial choices without ever making the step up to perform or produce themselves, I felt a singing hypocrisy when confronted with my own whinge about shallow, lacklustre discussion around the arts – without having a go at it, to at least demonstrate it is possible to write something compelling and cogent within a word limit. Not that I thought it would be easy; but a general principle of responding to the work (rather than just reviewing it) has lead me to a better understanding of my own arts practice as well as often enhancing my experience of the work itself.

My mission, and I damn well choose to accept it, is to raise the standard of public conversation about the arts. This is important to me for many reasons, but primarily because I’m tired of such a vital, vibrant part of Australian culture being ‘tacked on’ to how we represent ourselves as a nation. With a deeper, wider conversation about why the arts are fundamental to our lives, a small gathering of art-makers might warrant the same attention in the national psyche as say – twenty two men on a cricket field. And I have often made the point that sports coverage gets column inches because people read it, but people read it because the analysis is in-depth. That’s not something we can currently say about our mainstream arts press.

When I started CRITIC WATCH, it was as a reaction to lame and shallow arts ‘reviews’ by tacky non-creatives, posturing that somehow their opinion of a work was more important than the act of making art itself. It sickens me that a young artist can put on their first show, or an emerging actor take on a role in a co-op theatre show (all unpaid, of course); that they can actually add something to the creative conversation happening globally, and the extent of the public conversation about this entails a single audience member deigning to determine whether they thought the work was ‘good’.

But it soon became apparent that the problem runs much deeper than the majority of film and theatre reviewers who suckle hungrily at the publicity trough – these are a problem, yes, but one symptomatic of the core cultural cancer that’s been eating up our creative minds for some time now. The tendency for bottom feeding critics to dumb-down and simplify artworks to what amounts to a score out of five is excruciating but endemic to the system which commodifies artist and audience alike. Wondering what I’m getting at? Let’s take a stroll through recent events in the critical mainstream.

*Crikey Film Editor and reviewer Luke Buckmaster gets sprung soliciting reviews for a free iPad and advertising space (via The Australian)

At first I thought this was funny, until I looked more closely into it, and saw the absolute blitheness with which the Crikey Film Editor slid from his moral high ground “a festival paying reviewers to offer impartial perspectives would be a terrible move…” into insipid entitlement “I’ve been a film critic for many years I get all my films for free” and finally blatant quid-pro-quo with this amateurish “offer something the other bloggers probably won’t. Such as free advertising in the ‘above the fold’ (ie prominent) section of the Crikey homepage for the duration of the festival”

lulz. right? Not really… I have long since given up trying to track the pathetic efforts of self-proclaimed online cinetologists as pissing in the wind. I rarely read them for fear of spoilers, but there are just so many hack film studies graduates nationwide who think a DVD collection entitles them to a claim of expertise- it’s just not funny at all. Online critics who write for commercial gain are like acne. Unsightly, and in need of a good cleanser, but really of little significance to the health of the greater organism. Despite Crikey’s rising star of legitimacy, this sort of thing is unsurprising in the least. If I recall a year or so ago; another of their regular bloggers casually wondering on twitter if someone could provide them a free Kindle so they could review it. Whether we can take this sort of thing seriously or not is irrelevant, it speaks to a wider attitude of the critic being at the centre of the conversation about the arts. Something with which I fundamentally disagree. It should always be the art.

*ABC Television dismantles its in house arts coverage
Look no further than this for an indictment on the general cultural ill-health of proper attention given to the national arts sector. I put a full spray out on why this is nothing short of a disgrace from the ABC a few weeks ago, and have been waiting patiently for some form of explanation from the management responsible. After a gap between decision and explanation which can only be qualified as the length of the ABC Corporate spin cycle, Managing Director Mark Scott put this op-ed piece in the Fairfax press. To be fair, he does address many of the concerns put forward by artists and audiences alike in the fallout from the axing of Art Nation; but the proof remains to be seen, since the initial statement excludes the ABC from making any arts programs in-house. I can’t really see how this guarantees telling arts stories “in greater depth… with as wide an audience as possible”. Surely keeping some in-house production would enable greater control? And here’s just one more tip for ABC marketers to think on – uprooting and replanting sapling trees is not a great way for them to get to stand tall. Let a program grow deeper roots if you want to reach the tallest parts of the forest.

While our artists are tapping the deepest waters, it’s sad to see that the media is not there with them. But as I said, I’m making a mission to get the wider conversation out there. And I’m not alone, there are others online and in the communities taking up the same challenge.

I can only encourage you to get on board.

sancz out

Entry filed under: Sydney THEATRE.


1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Bernard Lau  |  15/11/2011 at 8:33 pm

    It is interesting how someone can comment and criticise your works aren’t themselves capable of producing pieces themselves.
    However, society is full of criticism and people judge you in everything you do. From the way you dress to the way you eat! It’s normal and in this world, people like to read what others think.


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VICTOR SANCZ vassanc [AT] gmail.com

since 2009

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