Posts tagged ‘CRITIC WATCH’
Quickly, before I drift into mental anguish. There is a kerfuffle down at Circular Quay because as part of the Vivid Festival of Light & Sound, one of the exhibits on photojournalism has been accused of censorship. Oh dear. Notable journalists-turned-art-critics such as Asher Wolf and Stilgherrian have been tweeting grumpily about the pain of it all, suggesting Vivid Sydney was more about “decoration” than art, and so on and so forth.
To re-cap, Vivid have curated the exhibition, which was to be shown as one of several photography related events over the course of the Festival. A number of corporate partners (such as Fuji, SMH & Destination NSW) are associated with the exhibitions. A full list of sponsors and stakeholders can be found at the Vivid website. The story broke last night when, to some of the photographers’ chagrin, the folks at Destination NSW (who oversee much of the logistical implementation of the Vivid Light Walk along Circular Quay) deemed it appropriate that some of the more confronting images of this exhibit not be screened outdoors at what is ostensibly a largely family oriented parade of colour and music.
CENSORSHIP! or, not quite, since the offending images were on display at other venues at the behest of these same agencies. In other words, they would not be on display anywhere in Sydney if it were not for Destination NSW arranging it. This is not Censorship. This is understanding your audience context. This is recognising, rightly that images of war and disease are not appropriate ‘general’ family viewing.
Asher Wolf has even acknowledged this upon tweeting to the convenient gallery of images provided by Vivid and Reportage Festival Media Partners (SMH) that the gallery was “NSFW” (not-safe-for-work). Much as we respect her work as a journalist it isn’t difficult to spot the flaw here. One can’t condemn an organisation for choosing not to display certain images in a public park while at the same time providing a warning that these same images may offend some viewers. Presumably that is why these images were restricted in the first place to an appropriate, indoor venue where audiences could approach them with warning. We do the same thing with movies, television and theatre. We offer trigger warnings for articles featuring graphic descriptions of violence, but somehow displaying caution such that a wandering family might not turn a corner and be confronted with images of war has become “censorship”?
We think not. As for the artists who have reportedly withdrawn these photos altogether in protest? That’s called a dummy spit. And the winners here are of course the Fairfax publishing group, who as media partners, have garnered a whole lot of linkbait and social content by daring to publish such controversy.
Minimising Censorship. Oh well played. Just try and find some justification in their copy for throwing Destination NSW and Vivid under the bus…
I happened upon this excellent piece from Clive James in The Atlantic today; looking at the work of essayist Dwight MacDonald, examining his flair for language on a granular level. Fascinating for anyone with an interest in just how high this quasi-artform can get in the hands of writers at their best. It charts the shift in the role of the critic and the gradual freedoms in formal and colloquial language in criticism that we most probably take for granted in the digital age. But this is how it began. Well worth a looksee.
I have been a little bit hard-hearted, it seems; when I first began this column I was filled with irritation towards a culture of reviewing which skimmed the shallows of a critical conversation around theatre and performance. Short, descriptive nuggets offer nothing in terms of context or feelings, and what little analysis I read was usually reduced to nit-picking or snide peanut chucking from the gallery. We could do better. I could do better . But there’s no value in moaning about the poor quality of something if one is not willing or able to try it themselves – a philosophy I maintain towards all creative pursuits. So there it was, a reason to get out and see more theatre (not that I needed one) and write about theatre, and meet more theatre-makers, all rolled into one measly complaint. What could possibly go wrong?
Similar voices of dissatisfaction with review culture have been raised in the past year or so, not least of which at the Wheeler Centre forum “Critical Failure” – covering everything from the influence of the publicity industry over who or what gets reviewed and when to the general dumbing down of the mainstream media – in a series of forums with established writers such as Gideon Haigh, Alison Croggon and Adrian Martin discussed their respective fields of Literature, Theatre and Film and the lacklustre sheen of the cultural conversation surrounding them. An excellent set of talks which establish my gripes and go further in far more eloquent ways than a mere hobbyist as myself ever could. It turned out that despite appearances I wasn’t just some raving crank – we needed a better set of standards for public conversations about art; and the fourth estate is dragging the chain.
And then it happened. I chalked up a dud review; warm with praise, but lacking depth, insight and worst of all: reeking of pretension. In my desire to say something noteworthy I referenced Nietzsche, prattled on about ensemble work and effectively said nothing at all about what I had seen, how it made me feel, what it meant to me. Which is a shame, because the production was one that stayed with me for a long time. A month after writing and publishing this insipid piece I was still reliving little moments and thinking about how the play related to me, in my struggles, in my life. The best productions take time for the dust to settle, and that’s why I shouldn’t be too harsh on critics in the current fast-turnaround-limited-wordspace world of journalism. It’s the editors and advertisers who really should go up against the wall, when you think about it… weeks of work and they expect us to care about 400 words scrambled up overnight in response? Not Bloody Likely.
So a change of pace for Critic Watch this year; I have been monitoring trends and have decided to inaugurate the BI-ANNUAL MUDSKIPPER AWARDS. A more lighthearted take on critical blunders and generally poor writing to be found in the wide web and beyond. For example:
The award for “Most Inane Descriptive Sound Bite Stated Without Irony” goes to Channel Nine’s Denholm Hitchcock for his sparkling praise of Colin Firth’s performance in The King’s Speech as (I kid you not) “very believable”. Thanks Denholm. You’re an inspiration to us all.
Nominations are still open until the end of the month as I prepare the shortlist. Any or all suggestions are welcome! Let me know who you reckon helped no-one understand anything about the work with their unmotivational droning… mediocrity deserves a reward!
other categories open for nomination are as follows.
Most Convoluted Plot Summary
Most Obscure Pop-Culture Reference
Most Unabashedly Hateful Review
and a special category invented just for anyone who reviewed The Social Network and like everybody else, was full of nothing but praise:
Grandest Public Delusion
Alternatively just make up your own.. It’s fun!
Sometimes, however, there is a piece of criticism so trite, so weak and blurry, so bland that in order to find clarity again I must pour droplets of soy into my eyes, to fend off the seeping mediocrity attacking my brain.
First of all, as any true nerd can tell you; it’s TARDIS, not Tardis. As the uninformed hordes of pop-culture critics swarm around the new episodes of Doctor Who, determining wot whether this new bloke is as good as the wonderful David Tennant. (WHO CARES – you’re living in the past!) He’s different, not better or worse…
It’s a fundament of my approach to arts criticism that as critics we must constantly engage in creative practice. Whether it’s writing plays or performing or offering dramaturgy to a friend’s work in progress or whatever, unless you are also working in the arts your critical commentary is, well – academic.
I feel much better now getting all that off my chest… thanks. Mea Culpa, all that…