Thursday, May 27, 2010

Critics on critics--and good criticism

Michael Billington, theatre critic. The critic who really obsessed me, and most of my generation, was Hobson's great rival, Kenneth Tynan at the Observer. What Tynan showed is that criticism is principally about writing well. Open his collected reviews on any page and you find the phrases lock perfectly into place. Here's one example, from a 1956 review of Graham Greene's “The Power and the Glory:” “Puffing on a cheroot, with lines of resignation etched as if by acid on to his cheeks and forehead, Mr Scofield exudes, drunk or sober, a Goyaesque melancholy.” That gives you an exact picture of Scofield's performance: it was the kind of writing many of us tried, and usually failed, to emulate.

Tynan was a role model in many other ways. He ardently championed the social and political theatre then emerging from London's Royal Court and Theatre Royal Stratford East. Tynan taught us that the critic is more than a privileged spectator: he or she can also campaign for a theatre that transcends escapism and embraces the wider world. If British theatre is today a lively, combative place unafraid of big issues, it's partly because of the battles waged by Tynan half a century ago. Combine a vision with a voluptuous style, as Tynan did, and you have the perfect critic.

Judith Mackrell, dance critic. There was also something inspirational about the best of the American writing. It had a novelist's sharpness of language and gaze, and almost never resorted to cliche. I remember reading the [Edwin] Denby collection in one sitting and marveling at his exactness. Take, for instance, this description of the ballerina in Balanchine's “Concerto Barocco,” as she is lowered slowly to the floor at the climax of a pas de deux: “She rests her foot on a single sharp point and pauses. It is the effect... of a deliberate and powerful plunge into a wound.” In this unsettling image, Denby managed to concentrate everything he saw and felt.

Adrian Searle, visual art critic. In the end, it doesn't matter what people write about. It's the way they make arguments, turn phrases, captivate and surprise the reader that counts, whatever the subject. If you want to write, the best thing is to read whatever you can get your hands on--novels, poetry, literary as well as art criticism, theory, love letters, the backs of cornflakes packets, the writings of ferocious lunatics and great stylists alike. It's all writing: most of it will teach you something.

Lucy Mangan, TV columnist. Everyone can watch a programme or play, or read a book, or eat a meal. Everyone can have an opinion. What you try to do in a review is add value to that basic combination – either through being steeped in knowledge of your subject; or by putting it beautifully; or by couching it in humorous terms. If you're a genius, you can do all three. Most of us just shoot for one and hope for the best.

More appreciations here.

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Search this blog or the Web