A Necessary Critique

I had a wonderful evening with my Mom a little over a week ago when we joined the Effort for Aids in St. Louis and dined out at SqWires, a restaurant that I had never heard of but Mommy dearest suggested because it had gluten-free pasta. How she knows these things, I am not sure. She is all-knowing. I’m just there to eat 

IMG_8540We had a most fabulous time and I really enjoyed questioning her about my most recent show. My Mom is an Emmy-award winning actress as well as experienced dancer so when I ask for her thoughts, she can really tell me. And tell me she does. I always enjoy hearing her thoughts on which performers she liked, who looked vacant, who stole the show, and of course, things I did well or could work on. I trust in her expertise and judgement and enjoy sharing those thoughts, especially over dinner. She is my favorite critic/ date.

Dance critics; for the most part, a unicorn of the press junket. (Don’t even get me started on knowledgable, articulate dance critics) I think these lepers of the writing colony stay on the endangered list because of these common sentiments:

They aren’t necessary- I can make my mind up for myself

They are just stuck-up grumps that can’t do anything themselves


Let me first say that I am often grumpy and usually stuck-up and can’t do much of anything from changing a tire to fixing my  own computer from spamware or nearly as many pirouettes as I’d like to do. However,  critique is surpringly where I am most open-minded, forgiving, and generous with praise towards individuals whose talent I am likely bitterly envious of. And I also think critics are necessary.

Critics are necessary because it makes performers better to know that someone is out there watching. It adds an extra excited nervousness. Critics are necessary because their presence in the theatre or venue demands a presence in print or in the blogosphere and therefore in the eye of the public. If someone is taking the time to write and think intelligently about what is presented on the stage, it can open up ideas, history and call forth opinion and imagery. It’s a jumping off point for conversation about the work; “did you read what so-and-so wrote about it? She’s such an idiot!’ (No pointing fingers)

Critics are necessary because the specific mention of a dancer can help validate their green card; I know because I wrote an article where a foreign dancer’s name was changed (thanks spellcheck) and this dancer actually contacted me begging me to try to fix it as the document would be useful in proving US work credibility.

Critics are necessary because they serve as the public word-of-mouth diving board; critics and press are often the first to hear of shows, products, even new restaurants. Think of your favorite local non-chain restaurant. (For me; Remy’s Kitchen and Wine Bar, or Modesto, or Tavern, or Uncle Bill’s Pancake House) How did you hear about it? Most likely from someone who heard about if from someone who read about it in a magazine or a newspaper review. (Or you performed a google search for ‘gluten-free) A critic’s opinion isn’t the be-all-end-of of course, but especially if it is favorable, it really helps get the ball of interest going. It’s hard when art critics are non-existent, ignored, or looked at as a joke to take their advice ‘go see this play’ to heart. Maybe I should work on becoming more persuasive, or knowledgable, or respected, or snobbish….no, I’m definitely good on that last one.

I was just reading this book review from the Wall Street Journal by Carl Rollyson- the book in question is ‘Melville Biography: An Inside Narrative’ by Hershel Parker.

I stole this paper and received these flowers from someone in the following picture

I stole this paper and received these flowers from someone in the following picture

I'll give you a hint; look for the shoeless lazy person sitting down (The Incurables at Vintage Vinyl's Record Store Day)

I’ll give you a hint; look for the shoeless lazy person sitting down (The Incurables at Vintage Vinyl’s Record Store Day)

Another Melville biography? Not that I’ve read any of the old ones, no thank you. I dragged myself along the literary chain-gang that is ‘Moby Dick’ to satisfy my ‘serious student of literature’ lust a long time ago, realized that I care not for pages upon pages of whaling information, picked up ‘The Hunger Games’ and haven’t looked back. but I will admit, Rollyson’s review maybe have gotten a dribble of interest in ol’ captain Melville out of this dried up blowspout.

I care ever-so-slightly because the new biography is apparently, filled with jabs from Parker at his own critics. There is apparent back-and-forth jabbing that has existed between the scholarly Mr. Parker and academic and critical enemies since 1968, so he’s had plenty of time to gather his choices grudges and hurl insults amongst deeply, obsessively researched details on what kind of jam Melville spread on his toast whilst imagining up his sodden adventure tales. It seems that the moment someone is proclaimed a grumpy snobbish know-it-all, I am interested in what they have to say.

In this new work, he is criticized mainly for surely embellishing facts that he cannot in all likelihood know, such as motivation and intention behind choices of both lifestyle and within the work. It’s not like he was a personal friend of Melville’s anyway and can speak from personal knowledge. He did however, conduct pretty thorough research and I suppose is the best choice as expert into the Freudian web of ties between life and work for his biographical subject.

It’s just this whole issue of research, because you know, too much knowledge can actually be a hinderance; just ask Adam and Eve. There’s a philosophy of literary interpretation deemed, ‘New Criticism’ that dismisses the artistic process, design, or intention with the final product being all that matters. I guess we’re supposed to take things simply as they are. I would still say that a critic needs to speak the language to critique the writing, and that dance critics should at least know a little about dance to be able to write about it with any degree of clarity, especially if passports, funding, attention, a chance of survival in the arts industry, and egos are on the line.


I would follow Captain Cupcake in his search for Moby Dessert

I would follow Captain Cupcake in his search for Moby Dessert

I have some gluten-free blondies about to come out of the oven. According to the reviews, they are scrumptious. I will take no one’s word for it, and taste them for myself. It’s a tough job but some gluten-free ballerina has to do it. x0-jess

3 thoughts on “A Necessary Critique

  1. As a last resort, Jess, you could read a few pages of MELVILLE BIOGRAPHY: AN INSIDE NARRATIVE. You can probably read the whole preface on Google Books for free. Thanks for posting the great picture of Rollyson’s review with flowers!

  2. To (the person I’m guessing is posing as) Mr. Parker: oh no no no. Reading would mean doing research which goes completely against the philosophy of New New Criticism, where one must judge a work after hearing only one other person’s opinion on the matter. (Speed dating of literary criticism) Oh who am I kidding- the final sentence of Rollyson’s review includes ‘revelation’ and ‘horrible insight into abuse’…I am sure to read it. Congratulations.

  3. Jess, if that copy of the WALL STREET JOURNAL was first bought by an Incurable and if those flowers were once sniffed by one of the Incurables and if you have not yet discarded newspaper and flowers, you have items that are far beyond mere Melville collectables–these are cross-collectible, a term which requires a variant spelling. Forget Melville and Rollyson and Parker. Let’s all praise vinyl and the Incurables. Just pos[t]ing..

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s