... For a blog treatise. Of sorts.
It occurred to me recently that what I’m trying to do with this blog – besides record the shows I see in my Year of Plays – is to discover whether it’s possible to talk about art without reviewing it. I’m not sure yet whether it is. In my posts thus far, I’ve tried very hard not to engage in the kinds of criticism one typically finds in reviews, but I haven’t succeeded completely. And yet I find myself still needing to try.
See, I have a compelling desire to talk about art. To share what I think and hear what other’s think. I love having conversations with friends about what movies and plays they’ve seen, what books they’ve read, what other art they’ve encountered. In these conversations, we are replete with colorful opinions and thoughtful critique. We are not concerned about sounding self-important, or worried about egos, because the conversation is private and we are among people trust. So honesty and insight abound.
But the game changes once the conversation goes public. Once you go public, those conversations become reviews, and the knowledge that other people are hearing this alters the very nature of what is said. The folks who do the talking (reviewers) start trying to sound clever or wise, or they mince words and whitewash their true opinions. The folks who get talked about (artists) are subjected to public appraisal, which monkeys with the ego and prevents them from hearing any valuable feedback. The end result, at least for me, is that reviews are untrustworthy, potentially dangerous, and not very useful – except to get butts in seats.
But I want to talk about art! With a lot of people! I want to talk about art with everyone, and I want the conversation everywhere, in private and in public! Art is important. And it should be talked about. I want artists to hear all sorts of opinions and thoughts about their work – because then they will make more art in response! I want non-artists to hear conversations about art – because then they might make some art of their own! We need more art!
So can we have a public conversation about art without the entanglements of reviews? Can we have a thoughtful, critical, entertaining, and honest discourse, without stepping on toes or inflating egos? If we can, what does that conversation look like? What do we talk about? Do we speak only positively or neutrally? Do we avoid offering any opinions at all? That seems nearly impossible, and the effort seems bound to produce conversation that is hopelessly bland and inert. But maybe I’m wrong. Or maybe the point is not to avoid making judgments, but to alter the way we make them. Who knows? I certainly don’t. At least not yet. But if it’s possible at all to thread this needle – to speak honestly and insightfully about art, while remaining impeccable with one’s word, while generating material that is still entertaining and useful – I’m determined to find out how to do it. And this blog is where I’m taking my first stab.
(P.S. – Maybe I’m being to hard on reviews and reviewers. I’m sure there are many dedicated critics out there who contribute positively to the public discourse about art. Who manage to check their own egos at the door and who have the guts to stand by their opinions, regardless of how their opinions affect others. I just know I’m not made out of that kind of cloth. My ego is both too unruly and too sensitive for such affairs!)