Clive Barnes, the British-born drama and dance critic for the New York Post, described his function as a critic to an audience of over 200 at Westminster Hall yesterday as a link between the artists and the audience. "It makes the artist's way a little bit easier and the audience's way, too," he said.
Sponsored by the University of Maryland at Baltimore's Special Events series, the drama and dance critic for the New York Times from 1967 to 1978, Barnes shared his thoughts on the purpose of today's art analysts and the enormous power bestowed upon them by the public.
An urbane man with a gentle wit, Barnes spoke in soft British tones. He joked that the distinguished position of the critic was a much maligned profession. "You never hear a good word about critics," he said. "They say -- those who do, do, those who don't teach, and those who don't teach are critics."
A wave of laughter greeted this. Barnes then went on to explain what he considers the difference between the critic and the reviewer.
"The critic is someone concerned with the overall aspects of the art he is covering . . . the entire philosophy of the art," he said, "rather than particular artists. The reviewer covers specific performances and particular artists."
He also stated that everyone is a critic. "We all practice the critical approach to art," he said. "There are three questions we can ask ourselves when we approach a work of art. What is the artist trying to do? How well did he do it? Was it worth the doing? Keep that in the back of your mind whether it is a novel, television show, short story, movie, play or painting.
"The appreciation of art is a totally subjective thing."
Barnes said that he thinks the American critic has too much power. "We have the idea that critics are celebrities. That is really bizarre. We don't have to encourage them to think they are Moses. The critics have this omnipotence but only because the readers give them the power."
He then spoke of the dangers of the "smart aleck" critic who makes fun of the artists he is covering. "The critic is very much an entertainer in his own right. He or she makes you want to talk, read and think about art," he said. "The critics who are entertaining at the expense of the artists are a little bit sick . . . sadists. Be careful of them.
"Critics should only be used as a sounding board," he said. "People have a right to expect critics to be well informed . . . have considerable experience and general as well as technical knowledge in the art they are writing about."