Sharp-eyed readers of the arts pages will have spotted that the Daily Telegraph has succumbed to the temptation of appending stars to its arts reviews. It is the last of the upmarket British dailies to fall in line with this simplistic trend.
One of my first acts in March 2002 as Assistant Editor of the Evening Standard was to abolish review stars, except on recorded products that could be quantifiably measured by repeated sampling.
The argument I put to my editor and colleagues was that if we were employing the best and most readable team of critics in the business, it made no sense to encourage the reader to skip from headline to star line, omitting the subtlties of our review. My argument held sway so long as I wielded executive authority at the paper.
Of all the devices that devalue the function of criticism, the bar of stars is among the most pernicious. It suggests that artistic creation can be ticked off like a school essay and subjected to a set of SATs, in which the individual, expert guidance of teachers and examiners is set aside for the one-rule-fits-all solution of 21st century politicians.
I understand full well the busy lives that most readers lead and their need at a weekends to make a quick judgement on which show to see without having to wade through all the guff that comes with a multi-section paper.
Nevertheless, as critics we have the duty to protect art from snap judgements. Judgements of this kind allow art to be easily branded as ‘degenerate’ or ‘anti-people’ or ‘anti-art’ – and you know where those labels come from.
I am sorry to see the Telegraph fall prey to the dumbed-down times and I hope serious papers elsewhere will continue to resist. It is not just critics that are diminished by these shortcuts – it is journalism itself.
Or am I wrong? Your views, please.