Sep 1, 2010

Criticism From Ignorance

I thought NY Times dance critic Alastair Macauley came off as a pompous know-it-all in this back-and-forth with Charles Isherwood re: Twyla Tharp's Come Fly Away, but I've got to give him props for adding this to the discourse:
I've heard people say that you should have watched 800 dance performances before you begin as a critic. I'd only seen about 250 when I began. I've heard other people say you should have been watching dance for twenty years. I'd been going frequently for less than two. A friend of mine said the other night that "There's no such thing as a good young critic." Her point was that a critic who's only seen three Ophelias doesn't know enough, whereas someone who's seen 20 does. Well, even now that I've seen more than twenty Ophelias, I still don't agree. I would rather read a fresh critic coming new to the art form with all his/her wits than an old-fart critic who's tedious to read.

Those ideas about experience propose that a critic must be an expert. I, however, believe that criticism begins not in knowledge but in ignorance. You can't prepare for a new ballet, a new dancer, a new play, a new work of music, a new trend. Expertise won't help you with the new; but an open mind will. And actually you can't prepare for the qualities that will make your 300th "Swan Lake" different from the previous 299.

Take that, John Lahr!

(h/t Thomas Cott)

1 comment:

George Hunka said...

Hm. So what about about a knowledgable critic, regardless of age, with all his/her wits who's very interesting to read? Or shall we leave criticism to ignorant young tyros who have neither expertise nor experience?

Besides, even ignorant young tyros grow into experienced old farts eventually ...