It’s rare that I’ll admit to experiencing schadenfreude at any given moment. Of course I’d like to think I don’t experience it often anyhow. But, to be honest, I have one habit through which I find myself able to this joy-at-misfortune roam free: my extensive weekly reading of arts criticism. I read theatre reviews, film reviews, visual arts reviews and reviews of exhibitions, concert reviews – you name it, I know what all the critics think about it. Reviews like these are informative for me as a young artist, of course, but also surprisingly entertaining. I suppose there’s something wildly exciting for me about reading the words of people whose job it is to say whatever they want. That’s exaggeration, sure, but critics, for me, can tell the world how they truly feel about art. It’s certainly not to say that I agree with every critique I read, of course, but still – it’s either their brashness or their bravery that I admire most.
So with all this strange admiration, I read Charles Isherwood’s Friday posting in the New York Times’ Arts Beat blog and was left confounded. The article, “For One Critic, It’s a Rapp” isn’t really a review; rather, the critic takes a stand as if waiting for the artist to respond, rather than the other way around. Then again, the article is also part-critique of arts criticism. To explain the article simply: Isherwood says flat-out that he should no longer review the plays of Adam Rapp. Isherwood traces his history with the playwright, finding that he has “nothing but reservations” for “a lot of Mr. Rapp’s writing,” but has continued to review his work because it’s so prolific and lauded in the current American theatre (New York City especially). Isherwood then openly admits that maybe he just doesn’t respond organically to Rapp’s work like others do, saying that “criticism is, after all, a subjective form of writing. There is no right answer.”
As young theatre artists and dramaturgs, I STRONGLY RECOMMEND YOU ALL READ THE ARTICLE HERE! After my first read of it I almost felt as if Charles Isherwood had backed down. From what, though, I can’t say I’m certain. Has he backed down from the bravery that he’s always had because he’s a critic? The bravery and damaging harshness he’s possesed to share his opinions on art, at the risk of ruining a show? At the risk of ruining a career? Isherwood ends his article asking his readers “what do you think,” but I’m not sure I can answer him just yet. Needless to say I’ll have to find an answer before I read my next review.