Thursday, January 25, 2007

Can critics and artists ever be friends?

The Guardian is having a debate about this, which makes sobering reading for those of us who sometimes try.

You'll have noticed a heading in my sidebar called 'Musician Friends'. Heck, some of my best friends are musicians. I've never pretended otherwise. Do I review them? Sometimes: a) if my editors know darn well that we're friends, but still send me their CDs; b) if I've enough faith in their abilities to know that the review can be genuinely positive; c) if I know they have enough faith in me not to take it badly if the review is negative. Honest reviewing has sometimes strengthened friendships, because it can result in genuine mutual respect.

I treat friendly overtures from some musicians with suspicion; one can usually sense the 'caution needed' occasions pretty fast. A few experiences have left me cynical - some people don't bother to disguise their ulterior motives, but even individuals you've trusted for years sometimes cool off when they realise you're spending more time writing novels and less editing magazines, or, worse, that your 'art' (yes, "general fiction" is an art) is suddenly as much in the limelight as theirs.

True friends, though, are the dearest and most valued people on earth, and if they happen to be terrific musicians, so much the better. And the interesting thing is that these friends don't regard me as a critic at all.