Response to Lyn Gardner blog: Are critics covering the right shows?

By David Jubb

I think it’s good to question whether critics are covering the right shows: by geography, by venue or by artist. But is this just scratching the surface? This blog by Lyn Gardner is in a Culture section of the Guardian’s website, under a sub-heading Stage, under another sub-heading Theatre. I’m not having a go at the Guardian’s navigation system, just highlighting how entrenched our definitions can be…editors appoint critics in to art-form silos and commission them to write reviews within these silos. Venues and funders often operate using the same silos. Do artists?

One of the consequences of classifying culture is that it is increasingly treated like a product. The show. The exhibition. The film. Each badged with a bunch of stars and a specialist, critical value judgement. A vast underbelly of other cultural activity remains largely invisible to the wider public. Have you seen a review of Contact Theatre’s Future Fires? Or the Lowry’s Young Carer’s Project? Or the Southbank Centre’s In Harmony? These long-term cultural programmes occasionally receive attention as cultural news items. But they don’t get reviewed – they don’t receive the day-to-day coverage of shows, exhibitions and films.

Why do we only review Art with a capital A? It’s probably not just because editors and critics don’t know how to go about reviewing other kinds of cultural experience…it’s probably also because other kind of cultural experience do not want to be submitted to critical review…?

But maybe this is something we need to work out…maybe it’s really important that our review pages reflect the breadth and depth of our culture. There has been lots of debate in recent years about how members of the public might become greater advocates for arts and culture, I have sat in many What Next? conversations exploring this topic. If there was day-to-day coverage of grassroots cultural projects (not just coverage of Art) then I think there would be wider public appreciation about the value of culture and creativity in our communities.

As Alarming infers, we should be careful what we wish for…perhaps it’s a blessing in disguise that some of the most interesting cross-discipline practice and cultural engagement projects are left to grow without being badged or judged. But then again, isn’t the current system reinforcing power at the centre?…in London, in anything that commands a large audience, in sometimes proprietorial art-form experts. I think the dominant orthodoxy of reviews, in current form, only helps to reinforce existing hierarchies across the Arts. It is great to see the beginnings of other forms of critical dialogue emerging…I hope that rather than see these as a threat, editors and critics see them as a much needed attempt to reinvent a rather tired form. What if editors, critics and publications took a risk and sought to find new ways and means to explore the breadth and depth of our creativity and culture? What could that look like?

Looking at the streamlining of most publications, we seem to be going in exactly the opposite direction!…but maybe there are changes coming round the corner that is bubbling away somewhere right now.

Lyn Gardner’s original blog: http://www.theguardian.com/stage/theatreblog/2014/apr/17/reviewing-theatre-critics-shows-lyn-gardner?commentpage=1

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