Creative arts and literature survived the test of time through their appreciative audience and readers. How much does a critic contribute to the success or otherwise of an artist or a writer? Authors like Shakespeare, Kalidas, Tolstoy and works like Mahabharata, Ramayana, Monalisa and many more have survived the changing tastes of generations. Dancing legends like Balasaraswati, Rukmini Devi, Sitara Devi, Gopikrishna, Kelucharan Mahapatra, etc. needed little help from the critics to achieve what they did. Nevertheless we have a whole range of critics?literary, dance, music, theatre, art?some of whom are celebrated names in their own right. Critique of art and literature is basically an English tradition. In India this genre had an uneven growth-varying in quality and acceptability from one linguistic State to the other.
The writers in different Indian languages achieved their success and popularity primarily through their readers over a period of time. The performing artists had clearly two sets of audience?rural and urban. For this purpose, rural also includes semi-urban audience in small towns where the performing artists were part and parcel of the society which recognised and promoted the good artists through community performances. A performer like Teejan Bai of ?Pandavani? fame never needed the support of any critic to make her art reach to the world.
This is, however, not to suggest that the art critics are of no consequence. As a genre scholarly or informed criticism has an important place in the creative pursuit of the people. They bear a seal of authenticity about an artist or a form in a given time and place, which may acquire historical importance in future.
The city-bound artists are a different group altogether. They are ambitious and aggressive. They are ready to compete; they need recognition. They need more money for their sustenance and right contacts to succeed.
This is where you need the support of critics for good reviews which help you to reach Academy and other forums. And of course to stake your claim to awards and honours. It need not be underscored that just any critic will not do. It has to be one writing in an English newspaper, preferably with a regular column.
In new India (between 1950'sand 1980?s) these critics were not only much sought after but also formed part of the artists? community at large. Mulk Raj Anand, Krishna Chaitanya, Charles Fabri, Subudu et al, walked and wrote with erudition and authority. Through ?nineties this breed started disappearing. Excepting a few, most of the English newspapers have no space for such ?unproductive? activities. Of course they have a regular column for weekly reviews on cinema which is a high voltage economic activity but these reviews hardly influence the box office success.
To see a scholarly review of painting exhibitions or the works of a new artist in a newspaper page is a thing of the past. The performing artists, however, manage to get some space depending on their contacts and the kind of show they put up. The quality of reviews is deteriorating fast?the critics appear to be losing perspective and the dancers unwilling to accept any criticism. In any case the critics tribe is declining steadily. Who is to blame?the media or the changing cultural ethos of our people? According to a website, there is a Dance Critics Association in the USA, having nearly three hundred members?both freelance and full-time. India certainly has a more vibrant cultural life which deserves greater attention.
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