The Critic As Artist?
April 28, 2009
I recently applied for a grant to help support my activities as a performing arts blogger from a Bay Area-based organization that funds theatre artists and companies. Before I applied for the grant, I asked the the grant's leaders if I would be eligible to apply. They told me that as a theatre critic, I would indeed be eligible to apply under the "artist" category, which I thought was very forward-thinking of them. "Yes, you are eligible...You would want to define yourself in terms of being a "theatre artist" (personally, I feel theatre journalist fits that bill)," the grant-giving organization's director wrote to me in an email. So in the spirit of experimentation, I applied for the grant.
The experiment, somewhat unsurprisingly, failed. Even though I'd be told I was eligible to apply, in the end the grant's panelists decided not to consider a theatre critic as an artist, so my application was deemed eligible. The rejection letter I received from the grant-giver last week stated that my application could not be considered because a theatre critic is not, according to the panel, an artist. "The panel reluctantly ruled your application ineligible because it appeared that you are not a theatre artist..." the grant-giver wrote in my rejection letter.
All of this raises interesting questions about where arts critics fit into the arts spectrum these days -- if they fit in at all. With old media dying and new media still trying to figure out a way to make ends meet, journalists of all kinds are looking for different ways to feed their commentary beyond the old paradigm of the salaried newspaper/magazine/television/radio employee.
It's true that the changing media landscape has made high quality writing about the arts less prevalent today, perhaps, than it was in the past. But just as hacks are not a novelty -- they've always been around -- so beautifully-composed, thoughtful writing about culture is still to be found in plentiful amounts. Oscar Wilde thought of critics as artists. Why can't grant givers do the same?