In the minds of many people, ‘criticism’ is something negative and undesirable. Nobody likes being criticised and even so-called ‘constructive criticism’ can seem to strike a censorious and therefore unwelcome note.
Much, however, depends on what one means by ‛criticism’. In the context of the arts – visual art, performance, music, literature, film etc. – criticism, far from being considered negative and unwelcome, is understood to be vitally important.
Arts criticism can take different forms. For instance, there is the more scholarly arts criticism, which is written predominantly for an academic readership. There are also more popular types of criticism, often published in the form of ‘reviews’ that appear in newspapers, magazines and blogs.
At its best, criticism, in whatever form, provides considered and expert appreciation, analysis and evaluation. For artists, writers and performers, this serves as crucial feedback, helping them to better understand their work and its position in the wider context, which in turn helps them refine and improve their craft.
Criticism also has the potential to educate the public, deepening and enriching the experience of the arts. Because of these various benefits, it is generally recognised that a lively critical culture in the arts goes hand in hand with the production and development of high quality art.
Criticism also has a more general importance that goes beyond the artworld. It is valuable also for culture more generally, providing the space and the tools for culture to reflect on itself and challenge itself in a way that can lead to change and improvement.
Given this importance of criticism and of a reviewing culture, it is perhaps surprising that there is very little formal provision for training critics, and, indeed, very little criticism of criticism that would allow a culture of criticism to develop deliberately and self-reflexively.
It is in this context that Arts Council Malta and the University of Malta’s Department of English have announced an initiative that recognises the importance of arts criticism and the need to help people with an interest in culture and the arts find and develop their own critical voice.
To mark the first stage of this initiative there will be a series of events this December. On 5–7 December there will be a mini-course called ‛How to Write about the Arts’. This will be open to all University of Malta students and will be delivered by leading UK theatre critic, Mark Fisher (http://www.um.edu.mt/newspoint/events/uomevents/2016/11/howtowriteaboutthearts). Mr Fisher will also be meeting established Maltese critics and reviewers to exchange ideas and expertise related to the craft of criticism. Then, on the evening of 7 December, Mr Fisher and a panel of local experts and stakeholders will be leading a public discussion at the Spazju Kreattiv theatre in an event called ‛Reviewing the Arts’.
The 7 December public talk will also include questions and discussion from the floor, followed by a wine reception. Those interested in attending should email firstname.lastname@example.org. Places will be allocated on a first-come first-served basis.
Photo shows Mark Fisher; credit Lotte Fisher