Theatre in Wales

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“Praise is Not Enough”: Keynote Address

Eleven Years A Reviewer

Critical State of Play , Wales Arts Review Critics Round Table , February-28-19
Eleven Years A Reviewer by Critical State of Play The Keynote address, made at Wales Arts Review's 2nd Critics Round Table, was made of three parts.

The first (below 22nd January) concerned the loss of criticism, the end of a living that might be made precariously as a general person of letters, and the value that artists themselves accord to critics.

The second part gave examples of the invisibility of the art of Wales. It then cited examples of inadequacy of digital-form comment.

“MOMA in Machynlleth this season has a room of James Dickson Innes, a selection from the fuller exhibition that was seen at the National Museum. In the room below twenty modern artists have been invited to make their own interpretations of Arenig. It is a scintillating combination and when the exhibition comes to a close it is likely to have left behind no critical trace of any kind.

"There is indisputably a flurry of critical activity in Welsh writing. But it thins out on the journey north just as the density of population thins out. There is still work in Wales that is deserving of celebration and is allowed to die in silence. Look for a critical voice on Bangor’s exhibition of Mildred Eldridge this summer and it is to look in vain.

“The second feature is the culture of profusion or, more rightly, the illusion of profusion. If any industrial sector were thought to be one of surfeit it would be that of electronics. But search for a hand-held gadget controller to fit a sufferer from carpal tunnel syndrome – a condition which numbs the thumb and first two fingers – and it is hard and bitter. A surface of profusion conceals a spectrum of narrowness.

“It is true that a billion blogs and blurts are there to make good the diminution of the local reviewer. A critique is circulating this season whose subject is a university in Wales. In his opening paragraph the author boasts of his credentials as an editor. It is a rambling document without consequence or conclusion.

"The confusion and vocabulary to one side – ‘Take responsibility. It’s your f***ing job’ is characteristic – it sinks for a good reason. The words ‘I’ or less often ‘me’ feature sixty times. The default mode of the blog and the blurt is unedited solipsism.

“Simon Jenkins wrote a long and dense piece on Wales in the wake of the Scots referendum. The seven hundred and fifty pieces of commentary contain a spelling correction, two pieces of genuinely illuminating – and relevant – personal experience and a contribution that adds an item of crucial historical significance. The bulk of the remainder varies in its qualities of entertainment but is disposable as material that enters into dialogue and dialectic with the source article.

“Of course there are jewels within the deluge but they are hard to find. Their rarity is for a good reason. Trollope’s An Autobiography is a dry book, not easily recommendable, but he writes about writing from the inside. He is rude about the reviewers who have emerged in his later years but he looks to critics whom he esteems:

‘When making their assertions they have given their reasons, explained their causes, and have carried conviction,’ he writes. Their accomplishment, he goes on, is ‘not without infinite study and the labour of many years.’

“The many years may not be strictly necessary, but to generate even four or five paragraphs that hang together takes a little time, albeit assisted, like all exertion, by practice and regularity. This is not to disparage the digital world, not least within a journal that reaches a readership in a hundred countries.

"But a critical response that circles around ‘fab’ and ‘brilliant’ is thin gruel. Again talk to the artists themselves. They want praise; of course, they do because they are human. But the invariable next comment is ‘at least this person has thought about what I was doing.’

Original Source: http://www.walesartsreview.org/critics-roundtable-2014-keynote-speech

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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