Mary Dejevsky: Who are you to judge artistic merit?

Share
Related Topics

"So what does Libby Purves know about the theatre" was one of the kinder responses to the news that the Radio 4 presenter and columnist for The Times, was to become that newspaper's chief theatre critic when the current holder of the post retires this spring. Similar condescension, punctuated with indignation, greeted the simultaneous appointment of Kate Muir, another Times writer and novelist, to be the paper's film critic.

The tenor of all the remarks was "who do they think they are: these novices, these amateurs, these women...?" One commentator, whom I have always regarded as having a generally enlightened attitude to women, complimented the eminent critics of recent years (all male, by the way, the ones he named), as being "much more than fizzy wordsmiths", before asking whether "a crisp turn of non-expert phrase deserves a seat in the stalls"?

Another writer, also male, questioned whether any benefit would accrue from opening up "specialist posts", as he called them, to "outsiders". Is this a good thing, he asked, and answered his own question as you might expect. "I can't rid myself of this awkward conviction that a proven record of knowing what one's talking about is of some objective worth..."

Well, there you are, Kate and Libby! All those years spent diligently meeting your deadlines, only to be dismissed as fluffy little dears unworthy to pronounce on serious culture from the seats that the "specialists" have occupied with such distinction for so long. Steel yourselves for being booed before curtain-up.

It seems to me there are two points here, unfortunately conflated. The first relates to the charmed, and mostly male, circle to which arts critics belong – indeed, to which holders of any job where it seems to foolish "outsiders" that the pleasure quotient is at least equal to the work element. These jobs are not limited to journalism, they are rarely advertised, and when appointments are made, it is not immediately apparent that actual qualifications have played much part.

I wonder, for instance, how the "professionals" who have been contrasted with Purves and Muir started out. And what qualifies them to do their job other than the knowledge acquired through years of experience? That is worth something, of course, but everyone has to start somewhere. And if there are to be more female critics, could the criteria for what constitutes excellence in a film or a play start to change?

The second point concerns what is wanted from an arts critic today. Do you read a review to know about the background to a particular piece, the history of the stars and/or the artistic references? Or do you read it to find out whether the film or play is something you "ought" to see, or might enjoy?

And, if the latter, might not the judgement of someone with broad experience and a gift for communicating – that "crisp turn of phrase" – be at least as useful as the view of someone privileged to have spent 20 years with a guaranteed front-row seat? I'm not talking about recruiting the "citizen" critics who cram the blogosphere with vitriol, but people whose expectations mirror yours; people who have more recently had to buy their own tickets.

Like it or not, a time comes when the revolution must stop

It's five years since Yulia Tymoshenko was the female firebrand who rallied the crowds in Kiev's Independence Square and helped secure the re-run of Ukraine's "stolen" election. With her signature blond braid and ferocious rhetoric, she became the face and the voice of the Orange Revolution.

But there comes a time, after any revolution, when the megaphones must be laid aside and the serious governing has to start. Since those thrilling days, Tymoshenko has had periods as Prime Minister. She acquired a more diplomatic manner and repaired some frayed relationships without sacrificing her burning ambition to become president.

Last Sunday she fought the second round of Ukraine's first post-Orange Revolution election – and she lost. Not by much; the margin was a little more than three per cent. It was quipped that her rival, Viktor Yanukovych, "won without gaining a victory, while she lost without suffering a defeat". But defeated she was, in an election pronounced free and fair. And, like it or not, this is how democracy works. Even a narrow loss at the ballot box is still a loss.

The pity is that Tymoshenko remains at heart the rebel and revolutionary she was five years ago. Still Prime Minister, she chaired yesterday's regular Cabinet meeting without saying a word about the election. But these are different times. In refusing to concede, she calls into question her own democratic credentials and risks forfeiting her chances of winning the top job next time around.

Elegy for the country churchyard

A bouquet, or perhaps a bunch of dry twigs would be more acceptable, for Davender Ghai of Newcastle, who has won the right to a funeral in the Hindu tradition. When he appealed against the city council's denial of his request to be cremated on a funeral pyre when the time came, I was all for the council.

Not only was there the slight cultural issue – if you want to go out in so exotic a fashion, why not arrange to end your days somewhere where funeral pyres are the norm – but, more to the point, there were the practicalities. You can't have everyone lighting vast fires all over the place, just because their relatives fancy a final send-off in the grand style of Indira Gandhi.

But now Ghai has won his appeal and I've changed my mind. It's not only that he does not insist on his pyre being built in the grand outdoors. It's that modes of passing from dust to dust have become more various of late, and a funeral pyre doesn't seem that bad an option.

I learned recently that a friend's elderly mother had stipulated a "green" funeral, with a bio-degradable coffin in the woods. You hear of ashes scattered – with or without authorisation – on hillside, forest or sea. I haven't noted anyone yet demanding to be left on a mountain for the vultures, but there's still time. We used to be warned that plots in churchyards and cemeteries would run short. Are cultural diversity and human ingenuity together producing a new balance of demand and supply?

React Now

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

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Middleweight

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: One of the South East's fastest growing full s...

Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

£35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

Recruitment Genius: Commercial Engineer

£30000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Estimating, preparation of tech...

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Technician

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will work as part of a smal...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron has reiterated his pre-election promise to radically improve the NHS  

How can we save the NHS? Rediscover the stiff upper lip

Jeremy Laurance
 

Thanks to Harriet Harman, Labour is holding its own against the Tory legislative assault

Isabel Hardman
Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club that later became synonymous with Hillsborough has dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor