As you may have gathered by the increasingly intelligent, self-aware and highbrow nature of recent web activity (apart from that thing about paedophiles on Google+), I have my head in my dissertation at the moment. It’s about the link between theatre reviews and ticket sales, but I’m also a big fan of aesthetic theory, so I’ve been reading around the subject a bit.
Everyone who has ever called themselves a critic, reviewer, arts blogger (or whatever) seemingly has an ethical code to which they adhere. There’s about a gazillion points of view available just on the Guardian theatre blog. Should you review previews? Scratch nights? Accept free tickets? Free Programmes? Be friends with the director? Talk to the writer on twitter? Read the play beforehand? Read another review beforehand? BLAH BLAH BLAH.
All the academic texts on arts criticism (and they are almost all on visual art criticism, when you get down to the ones that actually discuss what it is to be a critic, rather than just present a few reviews for posterity) make the link between criticism and aesthetic theory from the very beginning. One book I’ve found particularly useful, despite its baffling use of commas and some very hazy details about the death of Roland Barthes, has been ‘The Role Of The Critic’ by Nicholas Dromgoole. Without wanting this blog to turn into something too academic and BORING, he talks a bit about the various aesthetic arguments that have appeared in history, and how they were tied into the various moral and ethical codes of the time. Later, there are pages and pages dedicated to critical frameworks, as if a Structuralist reading of The Ladyboys Of Bangkok is going to appear in anything other than some dense academic journal somewhere.
And yet, he says, even going back hundreds of years “it was agreed that the response to beauty was individual and subjective, essentially a matter of feeling and emotion”. It always comes back to that. Apparently, Kant was the first person who was able to contextualise the aesthetic response against other emotions and, yes, KANT IS GREAT WOOHOO KANT. But today, when broadsheet theatre reviews are limited to a couple of hundred words and there are more bloggers out there reviewing than professionals, the whole idea that we’re still arguing about ethics just strikes me as ridiculous. A free programme is not going to make you FEEL any different about a play. Playing a hashtag game with a listless playwright is not going to make you have a deeper, more emotional experience when you next see his or her work. Refraining from the first person, even, is not going to make your opinion any more objective. NONE OF OUR OPINIONS ARE OBJECTIVE. JUST TELL US HOW IT MADE YOU FEEL.