Artist as Music Critic

By Erik Petersons on February 29, 2012

Anne Midgette has written an interesting piece on her blog — The Classical Beat — in the Washington Post.  Citing Jeremy Denk’s recent New Yorker article and the Kindle e-book by Jonathan Biss among others, Midgette explores the ever blurring lines between artist and critic.  She doesn’t stop at noting how artists are increasingly crossing the established divide to write about music, including their own, which is often viewed as a conflict of interest.  She brings her own job as a critic, and the professional field, to task after observing the condition of reviews in present-day press.  She writes:

It’s safe to say, though, that everyone is looking for something that’s worth reading: thought-provoking, or insightful, or beautifully written, or otherwise offering some perspective that you didn’t have before. In short, the point is to create a piece of writing that communicates something fresh — which is fundamentally a creative exercise.

And if music criticism is flagging in today’s newspapers, it’s precisely because the way the profession has developed in newspapers has leached it of some of that creativity.  Indeed, if the general loss of coverage of classical music means fewer formulaic, rote, checklist reviews, it’s actually a good thing, particularly if it stimulates the growth of other forums and other more vital ways of writing about music.

I wouldn’t say that all music critics are artists. But I would say it’s important to remember that all writing is in some sense creative, especially writing about art, which involves translating the non-verbal in terms that make sense to people who may not even be that interested in it.

Thus it’s hardly surprising that some of the best writers about music have always been creative artists. And in today’s changing climate, when classical music no longer occupies the central place in our cultural life that it did 50 years ago, we need this creativity more than ever – to lead us to new outlets and new forms of expression. Even if this means more musicians writing about music, and fewer music critics.