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Critics bashing critics


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#16 Alexandra

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Posted 17 October 2002 - 08:19 AM

OK. My issue arrived yesterday. While I stand by what I wrote on theory and background, in practice, I can't defend that article. To say more would be critic-bashing, so I won't, except that in theory, while it might be kosher, even desirable, for a senior critic to "police" his/her discipline, when you publicly wish that basically someone's career be destroyed -- that, to me, crosses the line.

#17 dirac

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Posted 09 October 2002 - 03:24 PM

Without having read the Barnes piece (though I'll definitely check it out), I would say that critics whaling away at one another isn't news. (Barnes himself has taken a few whacks in days gone by.) It's not always good manners, and sometimes can create long lasting bad feeling, but on the other hand it can excite genuine and productive debate. In the best of all possible worlds, it would never get personal, but people do feel strongly about these things. Of course, the attacking critic should always cite chapter and verse, and the target should be, ideally, the critic's size or larger. Homans has the chops to get her stuff in the Times, a high-profile venue for one's work, to understate the matter considerably. She can take a hit or two.


Barnes is not my favorite critic, to put it mildly, but again noting that I haven't read the item, this isn't necessarily out of line.


I certainly didn't see anything in the original article to wig out about; Homans said little that others haven't.

#18 dirac

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Posted 10 October 2002 - 09:47 AM

It's interesting and important to hear what the professionals think, and I really enjoy hearing about it -- but what finally matters, it seems to me, is what makes it into print. Homans' article was valuable, or would have been valuable if it had been a better piece, in that she was giving an alternative view that readers of the Times might not otherwise see. This is good for readers, and whether Kisselgoff loses face or not thereby is inside baseball.

#19 dirac

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Posted 10 October 2002 - 10:46 AM

The terrible thing is that New York, in comparison to the rest of the country, is in decent shape newspaper-wise, with several dailies to choose from, including the Wall Street Journal. And it's only going to get worse.

#20 dirac

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Posted 14 October 2002 - 10:00 AM

I'm with Calliope on the Post. I always thought the Post, on its own terms, was a good paper, although it has seen better days, and I have carried the Sunday edition (can't get the daily one out here) on the street without any particular self-consciousness.

However, I'd add that younger people who don't know Barnes' "history" might do well to learn something about it. :)

#21 dirac

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Posted 14 October 2002 - 04:50 PM

They certainly did. Croce expressed discontent with Haggin's critical vocabulary and his taste in ballerinas, and Haggin responded in kind. I recall in particular that Haggin disagreed with Croce's comments about Suzanne Farrell's dancing in her last seasons before her break with Balanchine. Croce thought her mannered, exaggerated, and generally off form during this period; Haggin disagreed emphatically and went so far as to check this out with Farrell. (According to Haggin, Farrell said firmly, "I don't know what she's talking about.")


As Alexandra notes, this kind of thing appeared mostly in Croce's early collection, Afterimages. I wonder if using other critics as a punching bag is characteristic mainly of critics who are just starting to stake out their positions. Pauline Kael's first collection, I Lost It At the Movies, is full of the same kind of thing.

#22 dirac

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Posted 24 October 2002 - 12:44 PM

Well, I finally was able to read Barnes' piece, and I don't think it's over the line. It's different in nature from the other kinds of critical jousting we've been discussing here, because Barnes is saying that Homans does not have the background or critical skills to proffer serious analysis of the situation at City Ballet and, even more to the point, that her observations don't warrant a big spread in The New York Times. He is saying, albeit with some harshness, that she's out of her depth and her editors should know better. The remark about dance history taking little note of this matter is probably accurate but an unnecessary rhetorical flourish.

#23 dirac

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Posted 25 October 2002 - 03:33 PM

I suspect that if the Homans piece had appeared almost anywhere else Barnes would not be getting quite so hot under the collar, because the paper has so much more clout than virtually any other outlet for dance criticism in this country (as his own career illustrates vividly). That's why he focuses more on the editors than on Homans, in a way -- it's not that she wrote a dubious article, but that the dubious article appeared with the imprimatur of the Times.


I agree that dissenting views should always be welcome. It's too bad that the article wasn't all it might have been, because there is a case to be made, whether one agrees with it or not.

#24 Ari

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Posted 10 October 2002 - 06:04 AM

Re "spinach:"

Although I haven't read the piece either, I suspect that Barnes is referring to a famous New Yorker cartoon from the 1920s in which a little boy reacts to his mother's serving him vegetables by saying, "I say it's spinach and I say the hell with it." The line has become a way of calling a spade a spade.

(In those days, children did not swear.)

#25 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 13 October 2002 - 03:15 PM

I tried, but I couldn't figure out how to fold The Post to completely conceal it.

#26 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 14 October 2002 - 03:56 PM

Don't Croce and B.H. Haggin scuffle a bit in their books as well?

#27 Michael

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Posted 12 October 2002 - 05:05 AM

As I see it, the NY Times generally has been too unquestioningly positive about all NY's cutural institutions. The underlying argument, as I see it, is "This is the greatest city in the world, therefore the Arts here are the Greatest Arts on earth." That is often not the case, though. We've seen some terrible crap on the stage and in the museums here at times (more than I like to think about) and seen it praised as if it's the Second Coming.

Homan's article was light weight. I thought it something of an antidote, however, to the rentless boosterism of the Times with respect to nearly everything at NYCB.

It was important that Gottlieb's history with Balanchine and then Martins be known to those who read his pieces, so that they could evaluate his credibility, as a lawyer might say, and reach an opinion as to the weight to give his views. I wonder how many of the younger readers of Dance Magazine will be similarly aware of Barnes's history as critical lap dog for the company, when they read him bashing Homans.

#28 Michael

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Posted 26 October 2002 - 05:44 AM

I suspect that Barnes may be carrying water for City Ballet on this one.

The Directorate there is famous for being sensitive to the point of defensiveness about criticism. The Times has provided a great deal of critical "cover" for the company over the years and the Homans' piece could well have "drawn" psychic "blood" there, particularly when more minor criticisms appear to have drawn a defensive reaction over the years. It does not overstate the case to say that Barnes has responded to criticism of City Ballet in the past, particularly when the criticism was prominent and the company needed a prominent rebuttle (as in the Croce incident discussed above). Does this mean I think NYCB actually suggested that he provide a rebuttle to Homans? I think it is at least plausible.

And in any event I found his reference to a critic needing to be "unbiased" quite humerous.

#29 Calliope

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Posted 09 October 2002 - 02:34 PM

There's no link for it that I could find, but in the current Dance Magazine (November Michele Wiles on cover) the back page is Clive Barnes "editorial" page.
While I admit, I'm not a fan of Mr. Barnes, I've seen him asleep at more performances than I can count. I was quite taken back at his editorial.
It concerns the recent, controversial article by Jennifer Homans in the NY Times "Where is the Heartbeat in the Balanchine Legacy".
Mr. Barnes starts the article saying hope "opinions in the arts are only as good as the people making them" and then goes on about Ms. Homans. who he's never heard of but cites that she "apparently writes about dance for The New Republic" and her dance background(SAB then PNB).
He doesn't really refute any of the points she made in her piece, his response is "spinach" and "double spinach" (I'm completely lost on that meaning) he just expresses dismay at how the NY Times printed such a piece especially since Ms. Homans completely contradicts the "brilliant, knowledgeable and experienced Anna Kisselgoff".
I was completely shocked by the piece. Instead of knocking Ms. Homans, perhaps he should have just written a piece on what good is going on at City Ballet. I still am completely amazed, at what I would consider completely unprofessional behavior.
The last line clinched it
"benighted, foolish editor who either commissioned you or accepted you. Dance history will see you both out, unnoticed".
Perhaps it's time Mr. Barnes takes his 60 plus years of experience and put it to some decent reviews as opposed to bashing a fellow colleague.
I've lost what little respect I had for the man.

#30 Calliope

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Posted 10 October 2002 - 06:18 AM

Thanks Ari, I'd asked several friends and colleagues and it's meaning was lost on them as well.


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