In a small country, perhaps the biggest misunderstanding has to do with the connection between being critical and being friends. A small country is a confined place, and where people feel confined—with little space left to breathe and even less left to move—fear is not far off. Those who are afraid seek security. Not freedom, not confrontation, not radicality. But proximity. Sometimes too much of it.

In a small country, critics and artists are frequently close—too close. Closer than is good for either side. In a small country, people don’t want to hurt each other. And when they do so, it’s deliberate. In order to discipline, to exclude, and to reinforce hierarchies. And to exercise power. When criticism gets personal, it gets hurtful. A degrading withdrawal of affection that, in the worst case, destroys its target. But criticism is capable of so much more—when it’s esteeming and well-founded, and when it goes beyond confining narrowness. It can help an artist to develop, pointing out flaws they can correct and opening up new perspectives. Making blind spots visible. Lighting up the dark wasteland in which that one sometimes gets lost. Even as an artist. Especially as an artist. All this can be achieved by criticism if it comes from the heart. If it’s unprejudiced, honest, respectful. With no desire to intervene, to reshape or change the other. Good critics are the best friends one can have.

Nothing gets past them, and they don’t dismiss anything with just an assenting nod — not due to laziness, nor due to some dire need for harmony, and definitely not due to a fear of injuring the other. For good critics don’t aim, don’t reload, and don’t shoot anything down. They’re neither hunters nor judges who enjoy seeing themselves in the position of grand arbiter, thumbs up, thumbs down. Good critics are an audience, a passionate audience. They don’t want to judge, to sentence, or to destroy. They want to observe. And to report on everything they see. No matter how small, how confined the country in which they live, no matter how great the fear around them. A good critic always sees the wide, wide world.

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