What kind of art is likely to emerge in the wake of the Trump victory? Continue reading
So can anyone be a critic?
When I was on the board of the Canada Council for the Arts, the country’s chief arts grant-giving agency, close to two decades ago, it was occasionally suggested that we should put “an ordinary member of the public” on each of the peer juries that had the job of saying who should or shouldn’t get grants.
It was an idea with the smell of democracy about it—the general public, after all, was theoretically the intended audience for the work that was under adjudication. Wouldn’t it be useful to hear the voice of the potential consumer? Wouldn’t that help to balance out the special interests and the artsy theorists more interested in experiment and new directions than box-office success? Continue reading
1: The critic is dead—long live the critic
We have seen a great deal of public hand-wringing in recent years over the so-called death of criticism. In an age of instant access to the Internet, it seems that everyone’s a critic.What does it matter that you can’t spell, can’t construct a sentence, and quite often don’t know what you’re talking about? Your words are in print on-line, and that in itself seems to invest them with a miraculous credibility. Who wants to think about anything in depth when 140 characters—reductionist thinking in a virtual nutshell—is all you need to get an audience? Who needs critics?
Good or bad, all this? It depends.
In the late fall of 1994 I was in Rio de Janeiro for a meeting of the International Federation of Food, Wine and Travel Writers—a junket, really, largely financed by the Brazilian tourist authorities. Of the 60 or so people at the conference only a handful were real journalists (as opposed to people who write about restaurants and travel) and none of them were there to do any serious digging—not that the Brazilian tourist authorities would have encouraged it, though they did set up a press meeting with the local police chiefs, who gave us the usual warnings about sensible conduct on the beach.
In terms of stories, I wasn’t really interested in the food, wine and travel angles. You can only digest so many meals and attend so many receptions. I was more interested in the underside of the place (the local criminals call tourists filet mignon). One afternoon a writer from LA and I took a taxi into the favela that was the main drugs pipeline out of Colombia, and I let it be known that I’d be interested in meeting Ronnie Biggs, the Great Train Robber who was in hiding in Rio from British justice, if anyone knew where he might be.
I thought it was a long shot, but on the day I was due to go home someone drove up beside me as I was walking in the street beside my hotel and slipped me a piece of paper bearing a phone number. When I called it, Ronnie himself answered. “Sure, come on over,” he said.
The nervous taxi driver insisted on dropping me a few streets away from the actual address, a twisting, cobbled street in a village-style neighborhood of Rio called Santa Teresa, and I found the house with the help of a passing local who asked if I was looking for “Mr. Biggie.” Mr. Biggie was taking a nap when I knocked, and answered the door in a green singlet and khaki shorts, his long, silver hair pulled back in a ponytail. Here’s my diary entry. Continue reading
March 12, 1985: If the idea of a spoken conversation with Marcel Marceau sounds odd, a telephone chat with the man is positively metaphysical. No postures, no big grins, no leaning against the wind or imprisonment in shrinking boxes, just this soft French accent across the air … from a mime, weaver of silent images, master of the art of the wordless. Continue reading
January 6, 2007: VICTORIA, B.C.: We gathered here today to say goodbye to Mavor Moore, who died just before Christmas. I was privileged to be one of the people he wanted to speak. When his wife Sandra asked me for a title for my little talk, I sent back a note saying: what about “From Thaw to flood: defrosting the soul of a cold country”? She e-mailed back: “Cool.” Continue reading
March 31, 1983: John Cage at 70 has a remarkably youthful, relatively unlined face. He keeps his hair dark (or perhaps it has always stayed that way): just a touch of grey at the temples. He has an engaging laugh. His brown eyes sparkle with the pleasure of whatever has struck him as funny (it’s usually an absurdity) and his mouth opens and this big, exultant grin happens. Continue reading