The Artist As Critic/Critic As Artist? [updated]
Peter Kadzis, The Phoenix's editor doesn't see anything wrong with it, as he told Edgers:
So should a music critic allow an institution he covers to set his poems to music - and pay his expenses? I say not, as does the Boston Globe's ethics policy. The Boston Phoenix disagrees.
I raise this after reading these blog entries from Lloyd Schwartz, the alternative weekly's music critic. In them, he mentions the "delightful invitation from the Boston Symphony Orchestra" to have his poems set to music by the Tanglewood Music Center's composition fellows. Schwartz signed a contract with the BSO-run TMC, according to his blog ("The Tanglewood Music Center was actually paying me for my services"), and, in anticipation of his visit, noted that he would be staying for free at the Tanglewood guest house Seranak, the former home of legendary BSO music director Serge Koussevitzky. "I was even going to be reimbursed for my gas mileage!" Schwartz wrote.
Am I being too harsh in calling out Schwartz, who won a Pulitzer Prize for criticism in 1994 and is also an accomplished poet?
Schwartz "works in the now waning tradition of artist/critic, not unlike Virgil Thomson. That the Tanglewood fellows would choose to set his poetry to music is a mark of distinction, not a compromise.Journalistic ethics and all, yes. But it's more complicated than that. There is a long tradition of artist/critics, but not today. In fact, some papers like the New York Times as a matter of policy don't publish pieces by artists who also might be critics. Critics like Peter Plagens who was/is a working artist while a critic at Newsweek are rare.
I suppose the thinking is that artists who are trying to work are compromised because they might promote their own work.
But it seems to me there's something valuable lost by the artist ban. It's a missing perspective in the American press. In the UK it's not. There, artists are regularly invited onto the pages of leading newspapers to express opinions about issues or write about work. Nicholas Serota runs the Tate, and we all know he'll give the Tate point of view, but he is also an important voice who should be heard, and not just about issues that affect the Tate.
Dominic Dromgoole runs the Globe Theatre but has also been a prominent critic. Nicholas Kenyon ran the Proms but is also an engaging writer about music. Okay, so all three primarily make their livings in their art, but banishing them from the pages of newspapers would be a loss. And does anyone think that readers of their work will be tricked by some self-interest? Authors write about books all the time. John Updike is arguably a better essayist than novelist, but should he be disqualified from writing about novels? Outside the arts, Bill Kristol is a columnist for the New York Times while he reportedly continues to consult for members of the Bush administration. Is that a conflict?
If the Phoenix casts Lloyd Schwartz, who is a graceful and interesting writer about music (and he did win a Pulitzer), as an artist/critic, I think they're offering something different and potentially interesting. Do they need to make Schwartz's afilliations transparent? Absolutely. Should he be writing about the Boston Symphony? No, but Geoff's post didn't make clear whether he would be.
One thing is clear. As arts journalism becomes more and more a freelance profession, the lines of ethical conflict are going to get more and more tangled. Should the rules for critics, who, unlike reporters, are in the opinion business after all, be the same as for reporters who are not?
UPDATE: Schwartz has responded to Edgers' post here. And check out the comments to the original post here.