Saturday, September 17, 2011


There is almost always a gap, sometimes a big gap between the intention and the realization of what you are trying to achieve. It is that gap which is so painful. The critic criticizing the concert doesn’t know that you had worked forever in building up a crescendo, and that you didn’t succeed in making it come out.
                                                                                    Vladimir Horowitz

The critic as aesthetic arbiter has, I think, no proper social function, no defensible criteria upon which to base his subjective judgments, and, historical precedent to the contrary notwithstanding, no strong case at law with which to defend them. (The critic) has served as a morally disruptive, and aesthetically destructive, influence.
                                                                                    Glenn Gould

It is perfectly correct to disregard all the bad reviews one gets, but only if at the same time, one disregards the good ones as well.
                                                                                    André Previn

Other than in the arts, in no other profession do we find the critic in procession of such incredible power over our thinking and psyche. Do we see people who are not physicians criticizing the surgical technique of a surgeon? Or someone who has no training in law writing about the arguments of a lawyer in a court case?

Yet this is precisely what we have in music and art, where we have the critic, sometimes with little training in the field, exerting enormous influence on how the audience or museum visitors feel about a musical performance, a painting, a movie, a novel, or a play. How many people would rush to pick up a copy of the New York Times after attending a concert in Carnegie Hall, just to find out how the distinguished critic of the newspaper feel about the performance. Or even before deciding whether to attend the performance in the first place. This in turn would affect how we tell our friends at the next dinner party about how we like the performance ourselves.

Performers themselves have also been guilty of hanging on the word of the critic. Naturally, a great review in a distinguished newspaper can make a career, while an adverse one can send the performer into artistic oblivion, if not traumatize and scar him or her for good.

We ourselves have given the critic enormous power, and we need to regain that power, to not be afraid to form our own opinions.

The arts, music in particular, elicit in all of us an emotional response. For a member of the audience, whether or not we are moved or touched by a performance should be the sole criteria of judging whether it is “good” or not. As Glenn Gould said in the quote above, the critic does not, or should not, have any role as “artistic arbiter”.

Glenn Gould often talked about the circus mentality in a musical performance. If we like someone, we cheer him to the rafters, and we make him a star. If we dislike him or her, we boo until the person leaves the stage. The critic has certainly played a crucial role in cultivating this kind of thinking, because we see a great deal of plain nastiness in music criticism. For one of his recordings, Gould himself infuriated the critics (I hope) by writing four “reviews” of the album, using all the catch phrases and clichés favoured by musical journalists.

Music is perhaps the most fluid of all the arts. As soon as a note is played, or sung, it becomes something that has already happened. An artist can play that same note one way tonight, and an entirely different way tomorrow.

When we try to seize upon something so fluid, we are in fact impeding creativity and originality in the arts and in the inherent process of art making, and taking away what is pure and precious in all our artistic endeavors.

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