The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

ON CRITICS

Scarcely a person alive hasn’t at some time been the subject of criticism.  Critics abound with the frequency that flies lite on cow pies in the dead heat of a blistering day in Yuma, Arizona.  They are our personal gadflies – sent as a scourge by a lesser deity.  But it is not to these I refer in this post.

No, the critics of whom I speak are those who have made a profession of it.  They are the ultimate arbiters (the Enlightened Ones) of what passes for good taste and have been placed on this earth to inform the rest of us (The Un-enlightened Ones) what we should read, hear, and enjoy – and conversely what we should not pick up, listen to and abhor.  It is a noble profession – and one for which there is really no professional training.  (This might be a possible career choice for those in the OWS movement as it carries with it no baggage such as student loans).

There was a memorable critic in Chicago by the name of Claudia Cassidy.  If it is true that “only the good die young”, Ms. Cassidy went on to live to be 96 years of age – but I have always disputed the validity of that aphorism.  She was indeed an influence in the development (and retardation) of art in Chicago.  Her moniker, “acidy Cassidy” would be understood by anyone who read or heard a typical reiew.

For years she worked as a critic for The Chicago Tribune, submitting freelance offerings.  But I came to know her through her regular half hour Sunday broadcast on Chicago’s classical music station, WFMT.  I can attest to her impact by saying that in order not to miss one of these broadcasts which spanned fifteen years, I attended an earlier service at church to be sure I would be home to hear this famed critic.

If I could think of a way to describe the persona that she projected, I would have to say that the words she spoke reminded me of a nasty and vitriolic Oscar Wilde, delivered through the gravelly voice of a whiskey-downing cigarette-smoking Edith Piaf.  Her delivery and her ability to turn a phrase (usually against the artist she was reviewing) were truly classic.  Listening to her was a bit like playing with a loose tooth – a combination of pleasure and pain.

Ms. Cassidy abruptly passed from the milieu of Chicago’s cultural scene.  One day she reviewed a concert which the Chicago Symphony Orchestra had given under the leadership of guest conductor Thomas Schippers.  She took apart both the Maestro’s ability to lead an orchestra, the orchestra’s performance of Anton Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony and went on to further impugn the Austrian people as a whole for having produced such a “monstrous composer” and inflicting him on the world.

Sadly, Maestro Schippers had decided that he didn’t like the rehearsals of the piece and, at the last moment, had substituted Dvorak’s Symphony “From the New World” in its place.  And so ended a vainglorious career.

If there is a moral in this it can have been expressed no better than by Polonius in “Hamlet” when he said, “To thine own self be true.”  As in relationships and in art, you are your own best critic.

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Comments on: "ON CRITICS" (18)

  1. chandlerswainreviews said:

    Regarding the last line: I certainly hope not.

  2. Critic is just that. They are not ‘praisers’. And the fact that we listen to them tells us something about ourselves…

    • I first heard Claudia Cassidy (unaware of who she was) halfway through a broadcast. The review was so vitriolic I thought it was a farce. I began listening regularly and then realized that virtually all her reviews were the same (it was just the names of the players that changed).

      In fairness to the late Miss Cassidy, she was fond of and promoted Chicago’s Lyric Opera. And she was instrumental in bringing Tennessee Williams’ play, “The Glass Menagerie” to the world’s attention in a favorable light.

      As to my enjoyment of the arts I rely on my father’s statement, “You be the judge.”

  3. Well said! Loved your post.

    While I realize that there is some value in critique, there is also a lot of value in praise that is deserved.

    • Thank you so much. In an earlier post (OUR INALIEANABLE RIGHT TO COMPLAIN) I discussed that very point that you raise. You are so on the money in your statement. We do have a right to object if something is sub-standard – but to compliment that we also have the responsibility to offer praise where it is due. Sadly, only a few of us seem that there are two sides to that equation.

  4. nearlynormalized said:

    From an old time New Yorker…”Phuque em–do they pay your rent?”

  5. I’m amazed that critics are given such an elevated position in our society. There has to be something out of alignment in society for us to even read the comments of someone who makes a habit of getting out of bed on the wrong side each morning and inflicting their negativity on us. We are given the individual right to either like or dislike something or somebody, but rather than destroy what we dislike that opinion is better kept to ourselves. What our society really needs is not a critic but a positive promoter of the good so we feel better about ourselves and develop a tolerance for those struggling to get to that same destination.

  6. The same applies to wine, food and almost everything. I agree that we need to draw our own conclusions.

    • I will hold on to the fact that my tastes are MY TASTES – good, bad or indifferent. That’s what individuality is all about. Thank you for commenting, Eric.

  7. Interesting I stumbled upon your incisive post on the WordPress tag under “Oscar WIlde”, looking for who else is writing about him. Just the same, Wilde’s kind of insights and satires will add much flavour to our contemporary criticism.

    • I think there was probably no writer more brilliant at turning a phrase than Wilde. I would hate to be on the receiving end of some of his barbs. But at the same time, he was capable of great sensitivity as he displayed in “The Happy Prince”.

  8. Well, here’s my critique of this post…love it! 😛

    The thing is, acidy people must needs put themselves on a pedestal in order to be able to look down on the masses.

  9. I’ve always cringed when I hear people attack others for what they perceive as improper behavior (usually in the absence of that person’s being there to defend herself). But imagine a profession in which someone is actually paid to do that – and many of the rest of us are guided in our judgments by that sort of vitriol.

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