Saturday, 9 January 2010

How do you like your criticism, pet?

Wotcha! I wonder if I'll get anywhere near to regular blogging this year?

Anyway, dreaming aside, at the end of last year, I applied to be one of the new Arts Council Artistic Assessors. For the last 8 years, and particularly in the job I've had for the last 4 years, seeing live art and theatre work, critiquing it with colleagues and feeding back honestly yet sensitively to artists has been a major part of what I've done professionally.

Obviously, I was turned down. After about 30 seconds of hubristic grumping, I realised that this was actually a good thing. I looked back over the sample artistic assessment I'd sent with my application and though I agree with every word of it and think it is objective and fair, it's also REALLY BORING to read.

The Arts Council isn't looking for journalism, but I'd made an assumption that they wanted to go the polar opposite, and gave them something so devoid of my personality that I doubt anyone who's heard me talk about work before would recognise me in it. I guess that's part of the point of objective assessment, but I realise now that it's not something I'm particularly interested in doing without at least some dialogue around it to personalise the investment and make sure it is useful to the artist/organisation being assessed... and that's something I get paid to do already.

What's interesting me more at the moment is a more journalistic critique of art, where you get a sense of a real life audience member experiencing the work. I think that particularly for live art and more unconventional types of theatre, there's a particular lack of good, engaging journalism.

Thank god for Lyn Gardner, who has carved out a regular, high-profile space for discussing contemporary performance on the Guardian Theatre Blog. And she's no longer the only voice discussing this work on that blog. But this still feels quite anomalous. The classic call from the live art/experimental theatre (LAET) scene has been that mainstream press refuses to be interested in non-mainstream work - which is an inevitable and ongoing frustration; but I'd say there's an equal problem in that non-mainstream work has not always been good at talking about itself in anything other than academic, jargonistic or cliquey terms. I think this is changing, with a greater appreciation within the LAET scene that a populist tone doesn't in itself necessitate 'dumbing down', but we've still got to get some more voices, writing articulately about the work, and getting published, regularly, somewhere that readers can easily find them.

Not too much to ask for then.

best get cracking...