Alexander Cohen delves deep into Monday's workshop on Creative Criticism
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Maddy Costa’s Creative Criticism workshop ran for 1 hour and 1 minute on the 29th of March 2021, the 88th day of 2021.
Key takeaway: there is convention when it comes to criticism. This convention dictates both form and content. This convention is not sacrosanct.
Conventional Form: a broadsheet newspaper review. There are many paragraphs. Maybe a publicity image if we are lucky. Think The Guardian, The Observer, The Times.
Conventional Content: As Hamlet said to Polonius: “words, words, words”. Formal elements are elucidated: staging, writing, direction, lighting and so on, all of which serve to pass judgement. An “I think” could accompany each description. Language betrays the writer’s opinion, even if it is not explicit.
A theatre review within this convention is usually attuned to a certain type of reader: one who does not know what to see, they do not know what is “good”. Hence in turning to the critic-as-judge, the critic becomes as a guardian of high culture whose theatrical Midas touch can make or break a show. What they bless with five sacred stars is good theatre and will be rewarded with audiences and ticket sales.
But this lends itself to the creation of a cultural hegemony formed by a group of critics-as-judges. Their opinions are worshiped. Their names are known by anybody who is anybody. The result is that macro cultural taste will reflect their tastes. Historically these experts have been straight and male and WASPs. Hence 'canon', historically revered classics, will come to be shaped by them, reflect their opinions, their point of views.
No critic can unencumber themselves from themselves. Reviews are always tainted with personality, opinions, beliefs.
Unconventional Form: anything that is not conventional form.
Unconventional content: anything that is not conventional content. Examples: images, paintings, music, poetry.
The first step towards unconventional criticism is an acceptance of the critic, not as judge of object quality (there is no such thing), but as an art lover who has opinions. The critic thinks. The critic expresses that thought, but there is no defined way to express that sentiment. Consider the following antithetical sentiments:
“A picture paints a thousand words.” (Common English adage)
“The artist to be “an imitator of images and is very far removed from the truth” (Plato – Republic Book X, 27)
There are many answers to the question of what the role of the critic is. Whilst none are definitive, I throw my newly evaluated opinion into the ring:
'The critic interprets the world that is set forth before them by the artwork'
While the conventional critic will interpret this world through formalism in both form and content, the unconventional critic will interpret according to their own laws of interpretation. Whatever medium best suits the sentiment they believe is worth sharing. What all critics have in common is widening our understanding of art and theatre. Because of that, everyone’s opinion is always worth listening to.