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.