Friday, March 24, 2006

Critical thinking

We use the word "critical" in at least 2 ways: one means of vital importance and the other means finding fault. Neither is the meaning used by academics, which tends towards the ability to appreciate and evaluate a work or concept. This kind of appreciation is, indeed, critical: if we lose our ability to see both good and bad, we do not have any means of making choices.

I'm thinking about 'critical' this morning as I read the reviews of the version of The Lord of the Rings that appeared in Toronto newspapers. And I am trying to remember when the last time was that the newspaper critics understood that they are not analysts - who break things into pieces - but the representatives of our critical faculties as they are stimulated by a particular work. Negative reviews are not the only reason that brilliantly talented young people have less and less hope of working in Canadian theatre, but they certainly contribute to the problem.

I wonder what the Canadian theatre scene would look like if our critics took it upon themselves to notice with rigourous precision every aspect of artistry, every moment of connection, every brave attempt that occurs in each production. I wonder what would happen if they began to notice that it is as difficult to notice precisely what is right as it is easy to notice that every work has (sometimes remarkable) imperfections. I wonder what would happen if they took as their primary role the ablity to reflect back to the creators that they have noticed what has been offered, to engage in conversation about art instead of offer proclamations.

And then I wonder what would happen if you used this same approach of critical appreciation the next time you were invited to comment on someone else's work.

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