Craven on criticism ~ theatre notes

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Craven on criticism

In today's Age, Peter Craven writes a sober and sensible analysis of this week's excitement, namely Julian Meyrick's attack on Cameron Woodhead's and my reviews of The Birthday Party. (Cameron's, sadly, is not online). In the process, he makes some good points about critical writing in general. This is particularly justly said:

Too often criticism in Australia has been characterised by a sugar-and-water or sugar-and-lemon approach, where the critic is afraid of frankness even when she is unimpressed. In contrast with this, both Woodhead and Croggon have the virtue of being fearless critics. Fearlessness is no guarantee of accuracy but it’s one kind of safeguard against the most obvious form of dishonesty. It is not the critics’ business to fudge their reaction or to mess about mediating the audience’s potential response. The critic is not there to review on behalf of the audience. The critic is the audience because he can have no opinion but his own...

Candour and eloquence are no guarantees of right judgment but they do guard against various kinds of falseness, including the falseness that comes from caring too much about the feelings of the frogs in the pond to say that it’s contaminated.

There’s also the plain fact that negative criticism is the logical corollary of its opposite. Only if you have the right to say that something is rubbish do you have the right to say that it’s a masterpiece.

Update: David Mence weighs in on the Captain's B'log with a commentary on the "theatre wars".

12 comments:

Gilligan said...

Nicely said.

John said...

Craven accuses Julian of violating "The tradition of simply copping criticism in silence" Judging from the rather shrill defence put up by some theatre critics in this current debate (not you Alison, measured as always) that is clearly not a tradition that applies to them. One rule for those who make the art, and another for those who judge it?

Alison Croggon said...

Yes. I clearly don't agree with that convention.

Eddie Perfect said...

Hi Alison,
I'd be a little worried, as a reviewer, if Peter Craven had my back. I've received poor reviews from just about everybody and I still maintain a healthy perspective on them and even continue to respect reviewers who think poorly of me and my work... but Peter Craven is more than happy to use his form not only for personal attacks but for wild speculation, flights of arrogance and unique brand of boring so potent, it's like napping awkwardly on your brain and waking to find it has gone to sleep.
It is a very important lesson for an artist to "let go" of bad reviews. But every so often you come up against a reviewer who is so objectionable you feel compelled to google image them to get a photo of their face so you can draw genitals on it and print it out and burn it with lit cigarettes. Peter Craven is that dude for me. I agree that 99 times out of 100 an artist should try to cop it in silence. But every now and then someone comes along like Peter Craven who shatters that ideal into a million tiny pieces.
I should point out that Alison Croggan never does this. Nor does Cameron Woodhead... and I've gotten fairly average reviews from both of them. Respect! As for Peter Craven... I should run, I'm fashioning a life-size effigy out of burning tires that I'm going to parade through Collins Street...
and sometimes that's healthy.

Alison Croggon said...

Hi Eddie - Thanks for the Respect!! Back atcha... especially for the healthy perspective, in all its voodoo effloresences. Public excoration is never comfortable, but it's part of putting stuff out in public. That goes for critics too, of course...

Anonymous said...

Is/was Peter Craven the partner of Cameron Woodhead? If so, do you think this should have been included as a disclaimer?

Alison Croggon said...

Not to my knowledge. Of course critics all know each other. Not that that stops the odd all-in brawl.

Disclaimers are good policy in a small world like ours, and there have been occasions when I have wondered why they haven't appeared in the Age; but here it seems a little gratuitous.

Anonymous said...

not all critics know each other biblically though

Alison Croggon said...

Egad. A vision worthy of Sade...

Anonymous said...

Craven and Woodhead are not/have not ever been partners, fellow anon.

Whatever else you think of this piece, or his writing in general, Craven is even-handed in his discussion of Cameron and Alison here. I do agree they are both fearless critics.

Alison Croggon said...

I agree, Other Anon. And, er, sometimes gossip is just (a) wrong and (b) unilluminating.

Anonymous said...

First anon here.
In no way was I trying to be gossipy - it was a genuine error. Evidently confused about who is/was partnered with whom, and apologies to all concerned. I thought Craven's piece was strong, for what it's worth.
Cheers,
A.