The latest addition to the ABC — Australia’s Banned Critics — has sent me in search of meaning again. First stop, some definitions.
Criticism: the act of giving your opinion or judgment about the good or bad qualities of something or someone
Critical thinking: the process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and evaluating information to reach an answer or conclusion
Critical review: making judgments as to the truth, merit, relevance, effectiveness, breadth, or contribution to a particular field, as well as its informational structure.
At the risk of being over simplistic, my take away from this is a three step plan.
- ask questions
- evaluate the evidence
- reach a position.
All three are essential.
Without questions, you’re accepting what you are reviewing at face value. Life ain’t that simple. Without evaluating the evidence you’re accepting your perception of what you’re reviewing at face value. Think again. Does the evidence really bear out your perceptions? And without reaching a position, you devalue your observations, and the whole process of review.
This is the framework from which I approach critical thinking in my academic work, my artistic endeavours and my arts reviews. Anything less would be disrespecting and trivialising the work with which I am attempting to engage and, please don’t doubt this, art and art-making is central to my being and it breaks my heart to see it routinely trivialised.
All this as a prelude to my reaction to the latest banning. The torrid little tea cup of dissent that is Opera Australia’s relationship with the critical press is not, in the general scheme of things, big news. Life goes on. Ben not reviewing the OA Winter Season will probably not make a jot of difference to their ticket sales or their artistic development (although his excellent reporting might…)
However, in Australia, in the arts, in music this should be big news, because Opera Australia is a company which commands the lion’s share of arts funding in the country. Yes, it’s a power thing. When a publicly-funded organisation self-nominates itself as above criticism it is taking itself out of the artistic eco-system. When most artists are surviving on the gentle waft of the ubiquitous oily rag, it’s a slap in the face when a company which has, relatively speaking, generous access to the petrol pump, declares itself above the law. It is abandoning critical thinking, rejecting review, and trivialising the art.
And that, above all, is what makes me mad.