Just how does this interaction between critics and artists work?
Don brought up the whole Westin thing, which in itself is pretty much easy to assess. However, some of the comments from individuals who identify themselves as critics had me pondering. None of critics were defending Ms. Westin's actions, but there still seemed to be a theme that the tonal or maybe even the act of calling her out had ramifications within the community. Perceived slights were suggested... even the suggestion that Chicagoans specifically were incapable of anything other than unchecked undeserved hostility when interacting with a less that adoring reverant press.
Whenever an artistic community has a misfortunate event where journalistic ethics are suddenly suspect, a hodgepodge of thoughts and preconceptions are thrust to the forefront of our constantly accumulating cultural conversation. How this conversation unfolds in the public arena has changed permanently due to the blogosphere.
Rather than remain focused on justifications, rebuttals, rebukes, and partial apologies, I’d like to turn the situation into an opportunity to question how the relationship between critic and artist is changing in the realm of theater criticism.
Before the blogosphere, print appeared to be authoritative and therefore was. Whether that authority was earned or not, who else were you going to turn to? Those voices who were in print were not merely part of the public record, they were the public record. The only opinions available for mass consumption /distribution were those of print periodicals. To say they were the standard upon which theater criticism was measured would suggest that there were other mass avenues for criticism. Aside from Word of Mouth, there were not.
In this sort of environment, the cause and effect of a good review and a well attended show seemed apparent. This led to a political/civil mode of ethics that some feel should still be the paradigm to emulate. Theater artists concerned with their reception rarely if ever rebutted critical negatives publicly, but touted even the smallest critical praise for obvious marketing reasons. The need to fill seats proved an unnecessary justification for this behavior. Critics had to (and still must for major publications) maintain an appearance of objectivity, fairness, and contextuality. That was how they were able to maintain reputation regardless of anyone else’s individual judgments of their perceptions. In the event that a critic’s words were challenged either with civility of not, those challenges were rarely visible for public scrutiny. Even the affluence of information we now have (searching archives of previous reviews by critic) was harder to come by just a few short years ago. Whether or not there is a perceptible bias or condition to a reviewer’s critical approach, is now retrievable by anyone online, with minimal effort.
Try doing that 5 years ago. It could have been done, but you would have had to be at the physical library and you’d have surrendered an entire afternoon if not more.
After living in a world with digital critical content, the cache of the newspaper print is not as apparent as it once was. It is in constant daily comparison for public consumption, and the question is… aside from there being more opinion available in a difference format of exchange, what has changed and does that affect how press and artist should behave?
In the beginning of digital theatrical coverage, it was still a frontier for only a very few. The papers merely replicated online what they had in the printed pages. The only other voices were those who dared to do something that few did, learn code, actually purchase a domain name, oh and find the time and discipline to write.
This is not the case anymore. Blog templates, RSS feeds… Are the words of other, newer, different individuals in the community suddenly seeming to challenge the perceived weigh or reception of the words by folks that once were not only in print, but due to media landscape one of a half dozen folks who got to weigh in at all?
I want to know peoples' thoughts on this, but lets keep it civil.