The Critic as Artist, Part II

Putting It Together - Cutouts

Putting It Together - Cutouts

Chris, you need to ask yourself, ‘Do I want to be the Artist or the Critic?’ To try to mix the two, especially in such a small town, is like mixing water with oil.

It’s been a busy few weeks on Moss Island. I’ve posted a few pieces, and I’ve put on a show. The show wasn’t well attended, and most of the writing received the usual attention (good but not “viral”), except for two that contained what some called cheap shots. As always, those generated much more traffic.

Many have contacted me about those pieces (also the show), and I’m grateful. It’s been suggested by many that I should choose between producing shows and writing about them. I have to take that seriously. If I’m hurting the shows I participate in because of my writing, it’s not fair to the rest of the team – they’d be better off on other projects.

So I considered, “What am I trying to accomplish?” As a performer, director, producer or technical theater craftsman, my goal is to surprise and delight an audience, to make people feel and/or think. Any of those. As a writer, my goal is to surprise and delight an audience, to make people feel and/or think. The intention is the same, whether I make the show or write about it.

I’ve always considered criticism a complementary art form. Its subject is other art, but its purpose should not be seen as merely evaluative (or prescriptive). That’s why I hate thumbs, stars, and letter grades. Somebody wrote that criticism = taste + experience. Criticism is a reaction – the full expression of a standing ovation, or polite applause. Criticism must also stand on its own. It has to be worth reading in its own right.

How do I make it worth reading? I study other critics. I consult Strunk & White. Mostly, I put myself into each piece – my opinionated, passionate, petty, (experienced) self. The same self that occasionally lights productions, produces shows, and appears on stage. When I go to a show, or see a movie, or listen to music, I think and feel. Afterward, I try to sort it out, and make those thoughts and feelings interesting. Like any artist, I don’t do it perfectly, but I learn and improve with practice.

Do I want to be an artist or a critic? I have to be both.