Met Opera silences Opera News' critics, triggering a charge of censorship

Daniel J. Wakin, The New York Times, 5/21/12

Opera News said Monday it would stop reviewing the Metropolitan Opera, a policy prompted by the Met's dissatisfaction over negative critiques. The decision by the magazine, which is published by a fund-raising affiliate, the Metropolitan Opera Guild, and which freely reviews companies around the world, troubles some opera experts. It is also the latest sign of sensitivity from the Met under its general manager, Peter Gelb, in the face of criticism over its productions. The move came after a review in April took aim at the Met's new production of Wagner's "Ring" cycle and after a top Opera News editor's scathing essay in the May issue. Mr. Gelb said Monday he never liked the idea that an organization created to support the Met had a publication passing judgment on its productions. Worse, he said, is a publication that "continuously rips into" an institution that its parent is supposed to help. Last month Mr. Gelb protested to WQXR over a blog posting that called his leadership into question. It was immediately pulled. Last year the Met asked a blogger to stop revealing programming choices for future seasons before the official announcement. The blogger complied. Opera News has reviewed Met productions since at least the mid-1970s. While not frequent, negative notices have periodically made their way in, to the discomfiture of previous Met administrations. But no ban was imposed. One prominent opera supporter saw [this] ban as something else: censorship. "It is irrational and interferes with the business of presenting artistic events," said Nathalie Wagner, president of the Wagner Society of New York. "Censorship doesn't work in other countries, and it should not exist here. We think Opera News does an excellent and a vital job in covering opera." David J. Levin, editor of Opera Quarterly, [added]: "It's inconceivable to me that the Met wouldn't welcome nuanced and challenging criticism."


Related: The Met censors...and loses

Philip Kennicott, culture critic of The Washington Post on his personal blog, 5/22/12

[This] decision makes another fine artistic institution look more concerned with message and brand control than the free play of art and creativity. Good criticism has all but disappeared from most newspapers, and is now yet more circumscribed within the pages of the last vigorous classical music publication in the country. It's easy for critics like me to become protective about criticism, without explaining why it matters. One reason it matters is that, when done well, it provides a template for how to listen and remember. Criticism isn't just part of the public memory of a performance, it is a demonstration of how to process and analyze a complicated aesthetic experience, what to take note of, and how to organize those memories into something that may stay with you long after the performance. Often, I believe the greatest danger art faces in our busy, chaotic, jangling world is that most people feel that the experience is ephemeral. Criticism, done well, doesn't just document how one writer remembers a performance, it offers guidance in the kind of thinking and observation that helps everyone remember. It is about making sure art isn't forgettable, in all senses of the word. The Met, as one the most important old-guard artistic institutions in the country, would be better served by actively supporting criticism, not limiting it.


Commentary: How to handle negative reviews (and come out ahead)

Jodi McIsaac,, 5/4/12

Negative reviews are a sobering reality for every artist putting him or herself out there for others to judge. If this is the first thing you read after every negative review, you'll have a much harder time feeling sorry for yourself. Instead, you'll be feeling sorry for every person who isn't as brave as you are:

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat." - Theodore Roosevelt, "The Man in the Arena"


Commentary: Art critics face an existential crisis as censorship reigns

Andrea Fraser, Adbusters magazine, 2/14/12

In the midst of an economic crisis, the art world is experiencing an ongoing market boom which has been widely linked to the rise of high net worth individuals, particularly from the financial industry. Until recently, however, there has been very little discussion of the obvious link between the art world's global expansion and rising income disparity. In the United States it is difficult to imagine any arts organization that can escape the economic structures and policies that have produced this inequality. The nonprofit model is dependent on wealthy donors and has its origins in the same ideology that led to the current global economic crisis: that private initiatives are better suited to fulfill social needs than the public sector and that wealth is best administered by the wealthy. Progressive artists, critics and curators face an existential crisis: how can we continue to justify our involvement in this art economy? At minimum, if our only choice is to participate or to abandon the art field entirely, we can stop rationalizing that participation in the name of critical or political art practices or -- adding insult to injury -- social justice. Any claim that we represent a progressive social force while our activities are directly subsidized by, and benefit from, the engines of inequality can only contribute to the justification of that inequality. The only true "alternative" today is to recognize our participation in this economy and confront it in an open, direct and immediate way in all of our institutions, including museums and galleries and publications. Despite the radical political rhetoric that abounds in the art world, censorship and self-censorship reign when it comes to confronting our economic conditions, except in marginalized (often self-marginalized) arenas where there is nothing to lose -- and little to gain -- in speaking truth to power.


Commentary: On censorship

Salman Rushdie, The New Yorker's "Page-Turner" blog, 5/15/12

Liberty is the air we breathe, and we live in a part of the world where it is freely available, at least to those of us who aren't black youngsters wearing hoodies in Miami [or] women in red states trying to make free choices about our own bodies. The creative act requires not only freedom but also [an] assumption of freedom. If the creative artist worries if he will still be free tomorrow, then he will not be free today. If he is afraid of the consequences of his choice of subject or of his manner of treatment of it, then his choices will not be determined by his talent, but by fear. If we are not confident of our freedom, then we are not free. And, even worse than that, when censorship intrudes on art, it becomes the subject; the art becomes "censored art," and that is how the world sees and understands it. The censor labels the work immoral, or blasphemous, or pornographic, or controversial, and those words are forever hung like albatrosses around the censored works. Even more serious is the growing acceptance of the don't-rock-the-boat response to those artists who do rock it, the growing agreement that censorship can be justified when certain interest groups, or genders, or faiths declare themselves affronted by a piece of work. Great art, or, let's just say, more modestly, original art is never created in the safe middle ground, but always at the edge. Originality is dangerous. It challenges, questions, overturns assumptions, unsettles moral codes, disrespects sacred cows or other such entities. It can be shocking, or ugly, or, to use the catch-all term so beloved of the tabloid press, controversial. And if we believe in liberty, if we want the air we breathe to remain plentiful and breathable, this is the art whose right to exist we must not only defend, but celebrate. Art is not entertainment. At its very best, it's a revolution. 

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