Critiquing The Critic

“Agree to disagree” is a golden principle that everybody knows. But there are very few who stop at disagreeing. In the name of ‘constructive criticism’ they find fault with the ‘other’. But such people forget an important difference between critiquing, which is healthy, and fault-finding in the name of ‘healthy criticism’. But how do we handle such people and at the same time help them realize that their criticism is not going to change the view of the other person so easily, sometime leading to a break in the relationship.

There lived one ‘Suppudu’ famous for his critical review of dance and music programs performed by various artists in Tamilnadu. As he wrote in the name ‘Suppudu’, his original name was almost forgotten by us. As an expert in his field, even great artists would become nervous when he attended their program. With much anxiety to get good comments from him in the next day’s column in leading newspapers, they would become extra cautious to present their performance.

But in their anxiety they would make some mistake and it would be pointed out clearly by Suppudu the next day. Because his views were authentic, everyone was anxious to receive good remarks from him. Artists also valued his critiques since he was the best in his profession as a critic. When some upcoming artist received some negative comments from Suppudu along with his appreciation, it would be endorsed by the editor of the paper with the Tamil saying; ‘even one is hit on the head, it should be done by a hand with a golden ring’ (குட்டுப்பட்டாலும் மோதிரக்கையால் குட்டுப் படணும்.), which means even criticized it should come from a person like Suppudu.

But one problem with the critic should also be recorded here. Sometimes they go to a program not to review it, but just for personal enjoyment. But when they allow their profession to become their very nature, they began to evaluate the performance rather than enjoy it. In this way, if they allow their profession to become too personal, they will miss several beautiful things.

And another problem also should be noted here. As a reputed critic, they will always receive accommodation in the first row—whether they go as a critic or for personal enjoyment. The artist who tries to ignore the presence of the Suppudus cannot do their best in the performance because in the name of ignoring she will constantly remember him. It is known as dveshya bhakti (bhakti of hate) in which the enemy of god too will attain mukti as he always remembered god out of hate.

But there are several mature artist who handle it nicely. Instead of ignoring him, they will recognize the presence of Suppudu and will give a big ‘Namaskaram’ to him. Whether this eases their nerves or not, at least it will help the Suppudus relax and enjoy the program. The mature artist knows that people like Suppudu who came to enjoy the program and not for any review cannot overcome their spirit of criticism.

Many artists are not just professional performers, but they make their art form part of their nature—as they live, move and their being become that very art. These artists understand the plight of the critic too. Making the critic also part of their life, they will not only continue to do their best on the stage and life but will also help the critic to do the same. Now the critic does not become the ‘other’, but becomes part of the artist’s own troop. A mature artist neither ignores nor becomes anxious with the presence of any critic in her performance. Instead, she integrates the critic as a part of her team. That way she can give her best, enjoy her own performance, and also help the critic enjoy the program.

Both the mature artist and the mature critic know that no one can perform an art, particularly related to music in a set pattern, without any change. When it comes to Indian classical music of both the South (Carnatic) and the North (Hindustani), the way an artist performs depends upon many things: the receptivity of the audience, their own health and mood, etc. So, without minding the presence of a critic, they will perform while enjoying themselves.

T.M. Krishna is the best contemporary example for this. He has said several times that he sings only for himself and not for others. One time in Chennai when he was performing for an invited audience in which they bought tickets for that concert, after singing for 45 minutes, Krishna said that he was not in a mood to sing further but if the audience insisted, he would finish his concert for the rest of the program. Knowing his nature, the audience also left after 45 minutes. He also never follows the set patters of beginning with Varnam and ending with bhajans or thukada. Though many orthodox musicians and critics criticized him for not following the traditional ways of presenting a concert, he doesn’t mind. Simply ignoring them, he carries on his art. In this way, mature artists don’t become anxious to impress others, particular the critic. By welcoming the critique, they ignore a critical mind and spirit about their art.

The same is the case with us. We should neither ignore nor become too anxious with those who critique our views. They are the unpaid guardians of our atman (soul). There will be critical people everywhere—beginning at home. We cannot avoid them and it is also not good to ignore them. But we must help them understand that as we make them part of our life, we too should help them make us part of their life. While critiquing a critic we should not ignore her but when she becomes too critical about everything, then for the benefit of all we should ignore her.

One final illustration. Some people are best when they are allowed to perform solo. While In a group performance, they may hit others while waving their hands and legs in the dance, where they cannot adjust to the need of a group performance. So in some dance dramas, such talented solo performers will be used when a single character is required and the rest will be done by the other members of the group. In fact, more talent and maturity is needed to perform in a group than a solo. But the solo won’t make sense without the group performance and the group performance will miss the link without the solo dancer. And the choreographer alone knows where to bring the solo and where the group. In the end, the audience applauds both for their joint performance.