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October 17, 2005


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To say the artist/critic relationship is parasitic is to say that the artist doesn't benefit from it, which isn't true. A good review can raise the visibility of a piece and bring in more audience, meaning more money for the artist, meeting his artistic and monetary needs. Even a bad review can do the same.


But the reviewers review is not necessary for the artist's survival, whereas the artist's art is necessary for the reviewer's survival. If they were mutually dependant on each other, I would call it symbiotic. But we're not. If we lived in a world with no reviewers, we'd still have plenty of theater.

This is not to say (I'm anticipating a counter argument here) that I dont' want critics at my shows, or whatever. Of course I do, I want reviewers to see my work and write (hopefully glowing notices) about it. But that does not make it any less exploitative or any less parasitic.l


My only counter-argument is that you're redefining the traditional definitions of parasitic and symbiotic relationships. You might wanna look em up. According to the definition the rest of the world uses, since reviews are used as a tool for promotion of the work, the critic/artist relationship is symbiotic (beneficial to both though both need not be dependent on one another), and not parasitic (where only one party benefits). Not sure whether that would qualify for the rest of the world's definition of exploitation either.


Interesting point. And yes, I am probably being willfully playful with my definitions.

As for exploitation, though... do you not think it is exploitation to make money off of someone else's labor? That seems fairly textbook exploitation to me. Again, not saying that exploitation is bad, per se (this is an attempt at description, not judgement), but making money off someone else's labor is exploitation in my book.


The reason I'm not quick to say yes is that the artist, then, exploits the critic's work for his own monetary and artistic profit, making it mutually beneficial and, in my mind, not an exploitative relationship.


Hi Parabasis,

Ever occurred to you that critics might care as passionately about theatre as you? I earn less cash than many young playwrights and directors I know. And - just like them - I spent years working for nothing.

Scott Walters

I'd also remember that actors, designers, and directors are also parasites on the work of the playwright.

The problem with the word parasite is that it is a pretty charged term, and intended to be insulting.

I won the American College Theatre Festival when I was a student, and spent a month with critics at the National Critics Institute connected to the O'Neill New Play Festival. I'm not certain that a critics job is to help theatre artists, it is to help the art form. Sometimes helping the art form is calling junk junk. This is especially necessary when the artists themselves, as a group, tend to be overly generous in their evaluations of their and other work. Somebody's gotta say the Emporer has no clothes.

In the medieval period, guilds were created that not only organized certain artisans, but also enforced high standards regarding the work itself. If artists would do the same thing themselves, then critics would be less powerful.

Also, the "first act free" rule of the Restoration would also weaken the need for audiences to refer to critics before plunking down a big chunk of hard-earned cash for an evening of drama.

There are a lot of things we could do to reduce the importance of critics, but calling them parasites ain't one of 'em!

Alison Croggon

I'm on the cusp - I am a critic AND an artist (poet, novelist, theatre writer). As an artist, I think people can say anything they like about what I make. I'm never going to please everybody. (Although naturally, I would prefer it if people enjoyed my work). I keep the most abusive reviews for my own amusement. Perhaps there is something wrong with me, but I have never quite understood why people take reviews personally; art put in public isn't personal. As far as reviews go, very few, positive or negative, have been any actual use to me, but the fact remains that perceptive feedback is always useful, just rare.

As a reviewer, I reserve the right to my subjectivity. And I respond as an artist first. I make no apology for that... My concomitant responsibility is to attempt to be as informed and discriminating as possible. This is not always possible - the learning curve seems to remain as steep as ever. I feel my primary responsibility is to a dialogue around and with the artform. I do not believe in "supportive" criticism, which is just another word for patronising, but I do hate ignorantly destructive reviews. And there is the issue of a review as publicity, the whole economic pragmatics of theatre as a temporal art, which I like to ignore, but is real nonetheless.

I used to review for mainstream print media, and I understand the limitations of the form. The fact remains that often those limitations are used as an excuse - it is possible, if difficult, to be thoughtful in 400 words. Critics ought to be challenged, and ought to see themselves in dialogue with the artform as well as with readers. Any critic who sees him/herself as the last word on any work is seriously deluded; remember those initial British responses to Ibsen?

That said, I have various complicated reservations about the whole critic thing, which I blogged at http://theatrenotes.blogspot.com/2005/10/forumitis.html after a sitting on a panel about, yes, theatre criticism...

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