Artistic Assessment and the Rise of the Standing Ovation
Every time the Etowah Youth Orchestra gives a performance, it seems, we get a standing ovation. I think that’s great—I mean, what better way to recognize the accomplishments of our young musicians, right? And it’s not that they don’t deserve the ovation—after all, they work their tails off at every rehearsal to prepare and present the best performances possible. And with young artists, we should always recognize and praise their efforts.
But on the professional level, I’ve been to a number of performances lately where the performance itself has been adequate, at best, and the audience has still recognized the performers by rising to its feet and loudly and enthusiastically heaping praise upon those on stage.
That’s fine, I guess—we’re recognizing the effort, perhaps; but, in terms of assessing the performance, is this really doing our art any favors? Don’t get me wrong—I want my young players to get standing ovations, to be recognized for their efforts, their achievements, and their accomplishments. But only when it is deserved.
I look at it this way—if I gave a performance that was just lukewarm, I wouldn’t want this type of accolade. It almost feels like pity, in a way—like the audience is saying, “Well, it wasn’t that good of a performance, but we should recognize the effort anyway—I’m sure he worked very hard to put that performance together.”
When we assess the arts, we have to be fair. I know, I know—we struggle every day, for funding, for acceptance, for a place in education, for a place in our communities. And it’s so easy to justify everything we do, to laud and praise every effort, in our desire to win the fight and solidify our place in society. But at what price?
It’s a hard question, but one we have to consider—is there any such thing as bad art? There’s so much grey area. We are not math, or science, or even the facts of history, where everything is black and white. But to be fair, to ourselves, and to our work—our mission—we have to be willing to FAIRLY assess our work. And that means not just accepting what we do based on effort only.
A standing ovation isn’t a bad thing. We just need to properly assess why the ovation, or the great review, or the heaping praise, comes from. And we need to hold our audiences accountable—making sure that their reaction is the right one, delivered for the correct reasons, based on the right assessment of the performance, or the exhibit, or any artistic output.
And so the next time a performance doesn’t meet our high artistic standards, I won’t ask the audience to sit back down. But I will challenge our audience, and the audience for any of the arts, to give a fair and accurate assessment of the performance. And I will make sure our students know what the expectations are for every concert. And that is a tremendous step toward accurately assessing the arts.