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This article is taken from PN Review 112, Volume 23 Number 2, November - December 1996.

On Artists and Critics Frederic Raphael

Artists at once crave praise and flinch from criticism, sometimes with Tennysonian or Salingeresque consequences: retraction from the public eye, wilful constipation and/or sterile vanity. Writers have the impression - and not necessarily wrongly - that the best critic would choose unequivocally to admire only what cannot be produced: his own work of genius. Less frantically, one could suggest that the critic's argued standards are both the measure of his secret discontents and the public warrant of his reliable discrimination. Generosity is the measure of critical reservations: what would it be for a critic to be generous to perfection? (Quick answer: it would be to be silent.)

For the most part, the critic is the fond enemy of what he more or less endorses; he apes the barren midwife, forever slapping to howling vitality babies that are not hers. For the critic (considered as a type), the original sin of artists is that they are artists, but never the artists the critic would wish them to be, since the true artist is the one the critic would be, if he were one. His ultimate, and incurable, disappointment is always himself; the more criticism becomes an occupation, the more bitterly (cleverly) it is expressed.

The good critic wants to settle something that cannot be settled: the valid order of things, of people, of art, of everything. He seeks to establish criteria which are, by sweet coincidence, inseparable from their judge: himself. By virtue of his putative ...


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