The ideal reviewer may need a hatchet in their toolbox

The creation of a new reward for arts reviews, “Hatchet Job of the Year” from the Omnivore, has made various people (David Sexton in the Evening Standard, for example) complain that reviews are too friendly to the artist at the expense of the audience, praising mediocrity and gulling the general public into forking out for substandard stuff. (Although see Boyd Tonkin in the Independent for a counterplea to avoid hatcheting those weaker than yourself.)

The problem, they believe, is that reviewers are too pally with the reviewed. It’s easy to write a good review. No one will be upset with you. Except the paying punter. But you’re not due to have lunch with them next week.

I think there is another problem. Reviewers are often practitioners. They understand from personal experience the pain of a bad review. It’s not surprising that they shrink from inflicting it.

The ideal reviewer would be different. They would see things from the audience’s point of view. They would only care that the audience is inspired, entertained, thrilled, chilled or disgusted as it should. They would have a wide knowledge of and ssensibility to the genre so as to judge the work against others. Work that didn’t deliver on its promise would drive them mad. They would not be needlessly cruel but would not shrink from telling it straight. They would allow any punter to have a fairly good idea whether or not they are going to like a show, book, exhibition or film before they pay to see it.

The more difficult question is whether I would prefer any of my work to have an honest rather than a cuddly review… The honest answer… I, like every other person who has ever had their work reviewed, want the honest reviews to be full of nothing but praise. But if they can’t be, I think I’d prefer them honest.