Reviews Need To Be Fair Judgments

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It is interesting to note that my name as a reviewer also popped up in Letters to the Editor of a local daily newspaper the other day in some sort of critique debacle, to which others have also contributed.

Welcome to the world of art criticism in Namibia, John Samson, a world of undiluted envy, professional jealousy, mud-slinging, suspect-making and personal insults … ask me!

You will learn with time what the realities of art criticism in real Namibian terms mean: artist conceitedness, self-praising, little understanding for the educational and aesthetic as well as the deeper meaning of arts as a major pillar in nation-building – so direly neglected by the powers that be. Shame on them.

In my mind, reviewer John Samson is an able, eloquent, capable and creative person who can make judgements and sound interpretations on visual art works, not based on political doctrines or otherwise.

However, in this debacle I detected that Samson is subtly and, I may add, unfairly made suspect as a reviewer because of his origin and roots – Cape Coloured. “Who is this Coloured, coming here to tell us how bad we are as artists,” – the more flattering defence by most Namibian artists, sometimes worthy and sometimes not so worthy artists.

To those lopsided and childish birdbrain thinkers, one does not have to come from Mars to be able to discern between good and bad Namibian visuals or, for that matter, any art.

In my view, what a reviewer writes is his opinion regarding a specific artwork out of appreciation for such artworks. That is his or her interpretation of such a work and he/she needs to live with it. Too often the impression among artists, and even the general public, exists and persists that reviewers are hell-bound to destroy, to take revenge and avenge themselves on Namibian artists, be they dancers, painters, actors, playwrights or others.

This total misconception has been with the arts in Namibia for ages. Luckily it seems the days are gone at least when most Namibian newspapers previously just made use of basically any willing and learned academic or professor to write reviews for them. In most cases, these people knew very little about art and/or art reviewing.

The defence was and apparently still is that the local newspapers do not have any trained reviewers. In all these years with a spontaneous Namibian national culture slowly evolving, none of these very same newspapers have done anything tangible, either to train or empower reviewers in this country.

Why should they, if most of them still report arts and culture as by the way?

The community theatre troupe, Committed Artists of Namibia, of which I am the artistic director, in its far-sightedness a number of years ago designed and submitted a solid educational proposal, even to some newspapers, for a ten-day art-review workshop specially for the local press. This followed shortly in the footsteps of the first internationally acclaimed workshop for the formation of a spontaneous Namibian culture with the dawn of Independence.

This much-needed and still relevant workshop would have included expert and globally recognized reviewers from Fleet Street and South African newspapers, covering modern and traditional dances, music, films, books, visual arts and all other creative genres. Any takers this time around?
Unfortunately, the workshop never materialized because of a lack of interest by local newspapers to have local people trained as reviewers.

My own involvement in reviewing local artworks stretches back many years with a number of newspapers such as the Windhoek Advertiser and even The Namibian. My view then, and now, despite the fact that I have been vilified by and made the victim of quite a number of artists who didn’t make it big in the art world, remains the same: critique should be fair, insightful, objective and unbiased.

These are the pillars that have guided me over the years, sometimes to the dismay of local artists, regularly defending themselves as being ‘sour grapes’ on my side or the other famous defence, “a redundant artist avenging himself on us artists,” who still cannot stomach honest critique of their works from people like John Samson and myself. Many of those critics of my works have permanently disappeared from the art scene. I am still around and maturing in my chosen career of unselfishly culturally uplifting the Namibian people as a critic, teacher and educator.

I would like to think I have always been fair in my interpretations and assessments of good and/or bad works of art, critiquing and positively encouraging artists to improve the quality of their works. Many artists have wisely heeded my creative advice and suggestions, and today quite a number of them are established and recognized creative people.

Artists, established or beginners, must realize that once their works are publicly performed and/or exhibited in the public domain, they are bound to be criticized, positively and or negatively.

Samson must just guard against being thrown to the wolves by the very newspaper to which his expert art knowledge is more than a blessing. Keep it up, John, and don’t be bothered. Do what you do best.
Until next time!

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