“The Complete Critic’s Qualifications”

“The Complete Critic’s Qualifications”

Feb. 14, 2011 — At ATCA’s recent New York weekend conference, playwright-director-artistic director Emily Mann, one of the Perspectives in Criticism panel (along with playwrights Adam Rapp and Richard Nelson and artistic director Tim Sanford), preemptively set a high initial bar for all critics by reading aloud Howard Clurman’s 1964 “The Complete Critic’s Qualifications.” Clurman outdid Moses by issuing 12 commandments — and as someone immediately said, no one but Clurman ever measured up.

The Complete Critic’s Qualifications

Besides having cultivated taste, feeling and a talent for clear observation of people:

I. The critic should know the greater part of classic and contemporary drama as written and played. Added to this, he must be conversant with general literature: novels, poetry, essays of wide scope.

II. He should know the history of the theatre from its origins to the present.

III.  He should have a long and broad playgoing experience – of native and foreign productions.

IV. He should possess an interest in and a familiarity with the arts: painting, music, architecture and the dance.

V. He should have worked in the theatre in some capacity (apart from criticism).

VI. He should know the history of his country and world history: the social thinking of past and present.

VII. He should have something like a philosophy, an attitude toward life.

VIII. He should write lucidly, and, if possible, gracefully.

IX. He should respect his readers by upholding high standards and encourage his readers to cultivate the same.

X. He should be aware of his prejudices and blind spots.

XI. He should err on the side of generosity rather than an opposite zeal.

XII. He should seek to enlighten rather than carp or puff.

The best theatre critic in the English language since 1895 was George Bernard Shaw.
— Encore, Dec. 1964

From The Collected Works of Harold Clurman, ed. Marjorie Loggia and Glenn Young (NY: Applause, 1994), p.vi.(This is a book well worth constant browsing, although at 1,100 pages, it isn’t exactly for cuddling.)

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