Tom Sutcliffe: It's hard to be a critic when you love something

 

Share
Related Topics

One of the commonest of all critical vices is reviewing the work you wish you'd experienced instead of the one you actually did. But it struck me this week that there are actually two versions of this vice – opposed to each other by almost 180 degrees.

The more common form of the flaw – wearily familiar to writers and film-makers – is to review what you think the work should have been rather than what its creator actually intended. And, almost without exception, this is bad news for the creator in question, since a sustaining thread of disappointment runs through the resulting piece. The critic helpfully points out how much better the book or film would have been if he or she had written it, while ignoring the fact that it was never what the author had in mind in the first place.

The other version is very unlikely to make artists complain, but is, I suspect, far commoner. And it consists of reviewing the performance you hoped you might get before you actually turned up... or, to put it another way, of reviewing the performance you'd love to say you'd been at. This too involves critical inaccuracy but it's driven, in this case, by an admiration for the artist in question rather than an indifference to his or her intentions. The review I'm thinking about in this respect was one that followed Paul Simon's Graceland concert in Hyde Park the other night and which, in the course of a 360-degree rave, described Simon's voice as "faultless".

I went to that concert, very much enjoyed it, and found myself in tears at at least two points – one of them being a stunning solo performance of "The Sound of Silence", backed only by acoustic guitar and a beautiful London twilight. But I don't think I'd have described Simon's voice as "faultless". He's 70 years old now and it isn't what it was... but that hardly mattered. Its frailties were integrally part of the emotional content of the show. That critic, it seemed to me, wasn't reviewing what he'd actually heard, but what he wanted – in his admiration for a great singer-songwriter – to be true. His was an inaccuracy of love, not condescension.

I suspect that the second kind of wishfulness is the one we're most prone to as consumers of art. We like to feel that we've invested our emotions (and our cash) in something worthwhile and we're disinclined to confront any evidence to the contrary – even when that evidence doesn't really amount to a contradiction at all. So we tell ourselves a little white lie about what we've seen. The best critics though – and the best readers and watchers too – don't tell lies at all.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Argyll Scott International: FP&A Manager Supply Chain

Benefits: Argyll Scott International: Argyll Scott is recruiting for a Permane...

Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property NQ+

£30000 - £50000 per annum + EXCELLENT: Austen Lloyd: COMMERCIAL PROPERTY SOLI...

Argyll Scott International: Retail Commercial Finance Analyst

Benefits: Argyll Scott International: Due to further expansion, a leading inte...

Langley James : Senior Technician; Promotion & Training Opp; Borough; upto £32k

£27000 - £32000 per annum + training: Langley James : Senior Technician; Promo...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping shake hands in Shanghai  

Is Russia and China’s ‘Nato of the East’ more than a Potemkin alliance?

Nigel Morris
A petition calling for Natalie Bennett, the leader of the Green Party, to be included has been signed by nearly 200,000 people  

Let me list the reasons that the Green Party should definitely not be allowed into the TV election debates...

Mark Steel
US immigration: President Obama ready to press ahead with long-promised plan to overhaul 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?

Immigration: Obama's final frontier

The President is ready to press ahead with the long-promised plan to overhaul America's 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?
Bill Cosby rape allegations explained: Why are these allegations coming out now? Why didn’t these women come forward earlier? And why has nobody taken legal action?

Bill Cosby rape allegations explained

Why are these allegations coming out now? Why has nobody taken legal action? And what happens next for the man once thought of as 'America's Dad'
Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain

You know that headache you’ve got?

Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain
Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?

Scoot commute

Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?
Paul Robeson: The story of how an American icon was driven to death to be told in film

The Paul Robeson story

How an American icon was driven to death to be told in film
10 best satellite navigation systems

Never get lost again: 10 best satellite navigation systems

Keep your vehicle going in the right direction with a clever device
Paul Scholes column: England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil

Paul Scholes column

England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil
Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win says defender as he prepares to return with Hull

Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win

Hull defender faces his struggling former club on Sunday ready to show what they are missing. But he says he will always be grateful to Tottenham
Frank Warren column: Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game

Frank Warren column

Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game
Synagogue attack: Fear unites both sides of Jerusalem as minister warns restoring quiet could take 'months'

Terror unites Jerusalem after synagogue attack

Rising violence and increased police patrols have left residents of all faiths looking over their shoulders
Medecins sans Frontieres: The Ebola crisis has them in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa

'How do you carry on? You have to...'

The Ebola crisis has Medecins sans Frontieres in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa
Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Residents in what was Iraq’s safest city fear an increase in jihadist attacks, reports Patrick Cockburn
Underwater photography competition winners 2014 - in pictures

'Mysterious and inviting' shot of diver wins photography competition

Stunning image of cenote in Mexico takes top prize
Sir John Major: Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting

Sir John Major hits out at theatres

Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting
Kicking Barbie's butt: How the growth of 3D printing enabled me to make an army of custom-made figurines

Kicking Barbie's butt

How the growth of 3D printing enabled toy-designer to make an army of custom-made figurines