Results tagged “Pulitzer Prize” from ARTicles

sebphoto-thumb-200x280-39131.jpgSebastian Smee, the chief visual art critic for The Boston Globe, was on a furlough day enjoying the beaches of Miami last Friday when executive editor Marty Baron called to say the writer had been awarded the Pulitzer Prize for criticism. When Smee landed in the newsroom on Monday, he gave a speech that praised his editors for holding to "a belief that the arts matter, and that good writing about the arts is going to be an important part of newspapers as they evolve.'' When I called to congratulate him this week, Smee reiterated the passion he has for his work in New England, spoke of the importance of value judgments in reviews and explained why he believes arts coverage is necessary to the future of journalism. 
 

In your 2008 article The Mind of the Critic, you mention three categories people tend to associate with criticism: to judge, to educate and to entertain. What is the role of criticism?

It may not be the most interesting part of a critic's job, but it is the most important: that he or she expresses an opinion. That's what people are expecting from a critic. There's a tendency out of politeness or good manners or fear for critics to sit on the fence sometimes. I understand that, and sometimes I succumb to it myself. But I do think you need to form and express an opinion about the merits of something. Of course, that opens onto a whole world of much more interesting questions, and you can delve into ambiguities and mixed feelings and a certain amount of education.

You're not talking about stating that something is good or bad. You're talking about expressing an opinion. 

Yeah, but good or bad is part of that. That's a critic's job: to make a value judgment on what they see. It's not imposing that value judgment as the only possible judgment about the thing. I see it very much as starting a discussion, but the discussion is going to get off to a much less interesting start if the critic hasn't actually said whether he thinks the thing he's looking at is good or bad.

What do you think about Boston generating two Pultizers in the arts this year? We might expect such numbers from New York, but what does it say about Boston right now?  

April 20, 2011 12:15 PM |

There's a great scene near the beginning of the movie "In & Out" where Oscar nominee Cameron Drake (Matt Dillon), walking the red carpet on the way into the ceremony, pauses for an interview with entertainment reporter Peter Malloy (Tom Selleck).

"Everyone's saying that you won't be going home empty-handed," the reporter says. "How do you feel about that?"

"Well, basically, to me, uh, awards are meaningless," the star replies. "Um, I'm an artist, uh, it's about the work, all the nominees are artists -- we shouldn't be forced to compete with each other like dogs."

"Well, I hear ya. Good point," the reporter says. "So then why're you here?"

"'Case I win," the star says, flashing a smile. Then he turns and waves to the screaming fans.

I mention this because all day I've been trying -- futilely, as it happens -- to resist the urge to respond to Ben Brantley's take on this year's drama Pulitzer. "I have never bought a book, read a poem or seen a play because it was by a Pulitzer winner," he writes in today's New York Times. "So any indignation being vented over this year's Pulitzer Prize in drama leaves me a bit mystified."

Even if he hadn't qualified his lack of respect for the Pulitzers by confining it to "the categories devoted to the arts" -- a handy asterisk for a newspaper reviewer -- that would be a curious, rather navel-gazing thing for a critic to say. He's right, of course, that "the Pulitzers have usually gone to firmly middlebrow works." Even so, dismissing the awards as measures of artistic merit is one thing; denying their power is another. The Pulitzer Prize may be a marketing tool, but that doesn't make it meaningless.

April 14, 2010 3:46 PM |

This is the most essential sentence in Los Angeles Times theater critic and 2010 Pulitzer Prize drama jury chair Charles McNulty's brilliant broadside against the Pulitzer board for its shameful habit of tinkering with the drama prize: "Too bad the board doesn't have members who are better able to distinguish the merits of a production from the merits of a dramatic work."

Exactly, exactly, exactly. Theater is a collaborative art form, but the drama prize is awarded to playwrights, composers, book writers, lyricists: the people who write the work. If you can't tell the difference between what's on the page and what's on the stage, then you have no business ignoring the advice of people who can. The Pulitzer board has never given the slightest indication that it's in possession of this skill.

Surely every playwright has been foiled by an actor or director or designer's misunderstanding of the text, or inability to communicate it; that happens to Shakespeare every day of the week, and has for hundreds of years. Lucky for him, we don't base our estimation of him on the countless god-awful productions of his work. But even Shakespeare's plays can be elevated in production beyond what's written. That's part of the beauty of theater. A good drama critic, like anyone else steeped in the art, can see through the performance to the play underneath.

Also important in McNulty's piece: Although he praises "Next to Normal," he calls "its understanding of mental illness simplistic." This year's Pulitzer winner is arguably entertaining (not in my opinion; the box office begs to differ) -- but truthful, dramatically or otherwise? Hardly.

April 13, 2010 12:02 PM |


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