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Critical cliches, etc.


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#1 dirac

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Posted 28 July 2001 - 03:40 AM

The following link is to an amusing piece by Philip Kennicott that appeared in the Washington Post a couple of Sundays ago. He discusses the difficulty of writing intelligently about the nature of art, and lists a number of generalizations about art and artists that have appeared perhaps once too often. I'm wondering if anyone has encountered similar items in dance criticism? or arts criticism in general? Any meaningless adjectives that you would just as soon not encounter again?

I personally have a problem with "compelling." It seems to be one of those words people fall back on when they liked something but can't think of anything more specific. Who was compelled? and compelled to what? Never mind. Anyway, here's the link:
[url="http://"http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/style/sundayarts/A58792-2001Jul13.html"]http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/style...-2001Jul13.html[/url]

#2 Alexandra

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Posted 28 July 2001 - 05:25 PM

Compelling.....hmmm That link made compelling reading :)

Thank you for posting this, dirac. I missed it.

All of his truisms are true!!!

I especially liked the point that, since we don't make art ourselves any more -- once upon a time, the educated person was expected to be an amateur artist, writing sonnets and sonatas -- we have become distanced from it and can't find good ways to describe art. And, as the author put it: "As we become a society of art consumers, with little real experience with the technical issues of making art, we have less and less of substance to say about it. And our cliches both reflect and deny that truth."

To the larger point about using cliches -- all critics do it. When you're writing for a newspaper it's almost unavoidable. It's not possible to say anything specific and meaningful about a work of art in 180 words. If one does become very specific and "literary," then what one writes will be meaningless to 95% of the people reading you. So we all say "wonderful," "beautiful," etc. We all know what "wonderful" and "beautiful" mean, but we all have a different image -- Zakharova, Julie Kent, Wendy Whelan, Margot Fonteyn -- all wonderful and beautiful to someone. All mutually exclusive.

I used to joke about writsing a book called "Use the Right Cliche, a Thesaurus for the Critically Challenged" which I thought would be a best seller among critics. When I started writing, I had to do a lot of galas -- there's an impossibility for you. Twenty couples dancing, mostly, virtuoso and lyrical pas de deux. How to describe them? What to say? Fans want to know how "their" dancer did, and who was there and did what. I once -- honest -- made a list of adjectives up in advance (I had to call in the review within a half-hour after the curtain went down). And I really truly matched "melting" with Kirkland and Dowell in the Snow pas de deux from "The Nutcracker." Luckily, I caught it. Someone else melted, someone else was charming, someone else danced cleanly -- quite different from dancing clearly -- and nearly everyone was wonderful.

But describing dancers as collections of bones and muscles -- this one has a long metatarsal, this one strong thighs -- doesn't help much either.

Suggestions, anyone?

#3 leibling

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Posted 29 July 2001 - 11:13 AM

This article is all too true, yet I understand what Alexandra says, also, about needing to use words that everybody will understand and appreciate. The cliches only really bother me when I feel the writer or speaker is just using them because the phrases sound good, without really thinking about what the words may convey to others. I realized recently the importance of all of these words...even though there are videos of performances these days, these cannot convey the essence of a LIVE performance with the same impact that a critic's artfully chosen words are able to. These words (combined with the memories of those present at any artistic event) are partly what makes art live on. These words will exist when the dancer has stopped, and these words will color our memories (for those of us that care for such things). One honestly written or spoken sentence is worth more than all the cliches in the world.


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