KadmusArts has bestowed several awards: the How A Genuine Artist Behaves Award to Tom Stoppard for his interaction with audiences during previews of a new play, covered awards, Lactation Station for the Canadian Art Council’s award grant to a healthy kind of bar, and our Standing Ovations for great pictures and stories from festivals around the world.
Everyone likes to receive awards, or at least some recognition for their work. So, I am sure the esteemed American critic Richard Schickel will be tickled to know that he has won the Arrogant Ass of the Week Award.
(The award can be granted with such regularity because each of us should be able to easily find a moment in the studio, an action on the street, or a response to an honest question, that would place someone in contention to win. One can even nominate oneself.)
As posted in our daily Festival News section, perhaps Schickel’s recent comments are a reflection of current cutbacks in his industry. Or, perhaps Mr. Schickel believes he just knows more than anyone else.
Writing in response to an article about bloggers and the publishing industry and the “inevitable transition toward a new, more democratic literary landscape where anyone can comment on books,” Schickel gasps, “Anyone? Did I read that right?”
That would qualify for only the Arrogant Award. He moves into the Ass category by continuing:
Criticism — and its humble cousin, reviewing [note: he is a critic, his lesser colleagues are reviewers -- they are humble ones] — is not a democratic activity. It is, or should be, an elite enterprise, ideally undertaken by individuals who bring something to the party beyond their hasty, instinctive opinions of a book (or any other cultural object). It is work that requires disciplined taste, historical and theoretical knowledge and a fairly deep sense of the author’s (or filmmaker’s or painter’s) entire body of work, among other qualities.
He cites such well-informed and informative masters as Charles-Augustin Sante-Beuve, Edmund Wilson (who, by the way, did not think of himself as a critic; he chose the definitely most humble category of journalist), George Orwell, and George Jean Nathan. (Are you wondering if Schickel is placing himself in this pantheon of greats?)
The more critics, reviewers, audiences, and even artists, are talking, writing, and even blogging, about artistic work the better — don’t you think? How often have each of us found an audience member’s comment, or a colleague’s note more informative than what a daily reviewer wrote in a newspaper?
I, too, admire the writing, point of view, and deep context these critics brought to artistic work. Schickel is right that a critic’s job is to create serious engagement with a work of art. Although many do want engagement, not all of us take ourselves as seriously as he does.
How serious? Check out his resumé (which definitely needs that accent aigue for an American). What’s the first feature available? Why, you can download a high resolution photograph of him!
Even better, here’s how he begins his Introduction to his resumé: “The nicest words ever written about me [wow - someone is writing about him!] are these: ‘Mr. Schickel knows how to use his prodigious knowledge of cinematic history to”¦” (A quotation from a fellow critic. Is there a kind of Politburo conspiracy here?)
Schickel makes his main living from reviewing American movies. (And he takes himself so seriously? Isn’t that what critics call irony?)
I wonder: Has he had any affect on improving American movie making? To add a fourth responsibility to the Critic’s Job Guide: Does the critic inspire artists — and audiences — to create new work? That is the true critic’s legacy!
- Bill Reichblum