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A Culture of Critical Conversation


I rate Peter Minshall as a bigger man than all of us. Now that is a rash statement, especially since I have never met the man, nor do I know many of his works. The few times that I have come across Peter Minshall’s name, it was about an impressive visual effect that he had created in a work of mas and movement on the Trinidad and Tobago stage or on the global scale.{{more}} Minshall is a big name in the creative arts. He really startled me though when I read a short presentation which he made a year ago at a panel discussion. The man was asking, you could even say that he was pleading for a “Culture of critical conversation” that would “pick apart” the elements of a work of art and show how it manages to produce a mass acclamation effect on onlookers and audience. Hear him speak.

Speaking of his own ‘Mas making’:

* “Every single work of mas that I have ever made, I approached with all the discipline, rigour and creative effort that a serious artist puts into making any work of art.”

He goes on deliberately:

“Never in this country (TnT) has a work of mas been the subject of a critical assessment as a work of art. I know this as a fact. I share all the clippings. There have only been news reports…this is a great disappointment to me.”

I find Minshall to be a uniquely different kind of person. He says to us that when he puts his all into the work he is creating and has created; his work is not finished. He wants people to pick it apart to tease out the tissue, to see what stuff it really is, and to explicate how and why it might have or not have, an impact on the viewer. Minshall is sad, nay hurt because he does not receive adequate criticism. What a man!

So many of us run from criticism, and we become defensive or aggressive when criticism confronts us. That’s partly why I say that Peter Minshall is bigger than us all. And yet this artist does not seek critical conversation mainly for his own personal and creative development and satisfaction. Criticism for him has a constructive social purpose. Such critical conversation, when it is in our regular diet, helps the community to identify and come to a consensus about standards of quality art, so that “as a society we can better recognize the next great work when we see it on the horizon, and so the artists of tomorrow have something to aim at in order to reach there.”


Now, in Trinidad and Tobago, creative art fills the landscape more than it does in SVG and yet critical conversation as a cultural norm is weak (Minshall says it is absent) there down south. The same situation faces our creative artists here in SVG. We need only observe our own discussions and our media houses’ coverage of the present weekend drama presentations that are taking place at Peace Mo. It is their own internal fires that drive our artists, along with a rudimentary competitive spirit; but the community’s critical interaction is not there to propel the art forms.

Peter Minshall has made his plea for a culture of critical assessment in the arts, his field of work. Others of us should examine our own fields of activity and assess the culture of critical conversation that we engage in or are subject to: Education, Health, Agriculture, Administration. Can the observation of Minshall be applied to your field too? If I look at the field of statesmanship, governance and politics, I would say that we have an over abundance of aggressive and defensive conversation. There really is no quality standards setting discourse in the politics of our daily lives. No higher quality standards of governance are being identified or promoted. We really deserve more. And yet in a semi-policy address on Education in/for the 21st Century, Prime Minister Gonsalves spoke feelingly of a need for setting standards for performance in the education sector. Perhaps those in the education sector could well in return make a call for setting standards of performance in the political administration and governance sector. But really, if we take pattern from Mr. Minshall, it is those who are leaders in the governance sector who should plead with us to develop the culture of critical conversation to help them face their weaknesses and errors, as well as such strengths that the system possesses. Take a page out of Peter Minshall’s book and encourage a culture of critical conversation in our practice of politics, please Messrs Gonsalves, Miguel, Daniel, Caesar, Eustace, Lewis, Leacock, Baptiste. Enlarge your character.

* Minshall Peter, Critical Assessment in the Arts, UWI, Stan (St. Augustine News) 2010 p. 38 – 40.