CRITICS, THE CRITIQUED AND CRITIQUES

by Wong Kwang Han

There seems to be an unspoken assumption somewhere that critics are beyond reproach. I think that is bullshit.

Artists themselves are frequently crucified or deified according to the whims of critics. When a critic is challenged it is assumed that the reaction is emotional and personal.

While it sometimes is, surely the same goes for a critique of a work of art - that critiques are sometimes emotional and personal.

In theatre one sees this more than anything else. Theatre in its essence is a confrontation. The confrontational nature of theatre is what differentiates it from television or film however impressive the latter mediums may be. In a theatre audiences are confronted with the raw energies of performers and playwrights, they are part of a process, whether willingly or unwillingly. Theatre in that sense evokes more reactions than anything else.



A critic confronted in the enclosed space feels his/her worlds stripped away by the process he/she is forced to participate in. A critic is more vulnerable than your average audience who paid for is ticket. A critic may in fact not want to be in that place but that it is his/her job. Even if he/she is well paid with fat year end bonuses, he/she is in a position that he/she did not actively seek out.

That being so, the critic could be said to be in a position where he/she is forced to face the doubts that theatre will bring as to the validity of the tenets of his/her world view. The result is often a strong if not hostile reaction.

This hostility may spring from an inability to deal with new paradigms, or it could come from a fear evoked by the performance. This could be a fear of his/her inadequacy, ignorance or of the knowledge forcefully (for theatre should not do otherwise) pushed into the critic’s face.



Here, I am not making an argument for the ‘banning’ of critics from reviewing performances or for artists to review each other’s works which some individuals and groups such as Theatreworks advocate. I believe in the role of critics. But I also believe they should not be so naive or arrogant as to consider their critical pieces as the sacred last word.???

I also believe that much as they deplore the sensitivity of artists to their critiques, they should be ready that their critiques be analyzed and critiqued in turn.



Henirk Ibsen once said if he had listed to critics, he would be lying drunk in the gutter. Art exists separately regardless of whether critics exist. However without art there would not be critics.

Thank god he had the sense!


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2020 © Wong Kwang Han