Posts about criticism

Who needs critics?

ArtsJournal is playing host to a group blog leading up to the meeting of the National Arts Journalism Program in Philadelphia and it’s a fascinating clash of old and new views of criticism in the internet age. Terry Teachout, not surprisingly, gives us a ringing endorsement of the new:

Middle-aged print-media critics who want to be read in the age of Web-based journalism must start by recognizing that they’re in direct competition with younger bloggers. If they don’t, they’ll vanish–and most of them will deserve their fate. If I were a newspaper editor, I’d be looking to the blogs for the next generation of critics. What’s more, I’d not only encourage but expect my new young guns to transfer their blogs to my newspaper’s Web site, complete with snark and comments and four-letter words.

Time was when the critics of large-circulation newspapers and magazines were important de facto, regardless of whether or not they had anything original to say. That time is over, and a good thing, too. I know I’m not entitled to be part of the cultural conversation simply by virtue of the fact that I publish in The Wall Street Journal. The only way for critics to “earn their authority” in the age of new media is to be interesting. Nothing less is good enough.

Applause. Applause.

But then we hear this from Anthony DeCurtis of the formerly hip Rolling Stone (whom I tried to hire when I started Entertainment Weekly; he said no):

Much as I like Depeche Mode, I’d sooner shoot myself than read fifty short reviews of their latest CD by DM obsessives. If that’s the future of arts journalism, best of luck to all.
Similarly, the notion that editors are combing the blogs for the next generation of arts journalists is hilarious — even moreso if it’s true. Blogging can be fun, I’m sure, but I wouldn’t give up that WSJ gig.
People should obviously do the best and strongest work they can, regardless of the medium in which it appears. Somewhere in here, the notion of getting paid for this work ought to be addressed. The disappearance of outlets and the downward pressure on rates seem to me the most disturbing aspects of the past couple of years.

I’m amazed that people think that criticism is an entitlement program.

Andras Szanto (who’s also teaching at CUNY’s J-school) argues that the abundance of blogs will lead to gatekeeping again.

The blogsphere today is more or less where the arts were circa 1975. It’s a realm of new opportunities, naïve expectations, and faux democracy. It’s smack in the middle of that euphoric moment that every innovative movement goes through before it makes its own peace with the status quo. Back in the seventies, it seemed everything was possible in the art world. Anything could be art and “everyone an artist,” as Beuys proclaimed.

But a funny thing happened on the way to this pluralist nirvana. Three decades later we are seeing an unprecedented institutionalization and commercialization of art. The entry fee into a successful art career is a $60,000 MFA. And while laissez-faire rules, aesthetically speaking, who can doubt that the artists being seen and heard are the ones who have the muscle of major galleries, presenting institutions, and distribution companies behind them. From the cloud of unbounded opportunity has emerged a new ironclad structure, no less selective and, in its own way, constraining than what had come before. To some degree, the very scale and openness of postmodern culture have mandated these new filters and hierarchies. And so it will go with the blogsphere. When the smoke clears, we will be back to listening and trusting a finite number of voices. We will depend on them, and we won’t have time for many more.

I’ll disagree. He assumes that there is still a scarcity of gallery walls. No, there’ll only be a scarcity of money.

Who killed the critics? (continued)

Continuing discussion on the shrinking world of the professional critic: In WBUR’s blog, Bill Marx writes:

Some critics think that their opinions, grounded in expertise and taste, is what makes them valuable. Now that the Internet lets readers sample written judgments from around the world, that position is becoming increasingly precarious. Still, many established reviewers don’t feel intimidated by the musings of the “cyber-rabble.” In “Time,” film critic Richard Corliss wrote that “the web is where traditional criticism is democratized….You don’t need experience, insight or a spell-check function … just passion and a lot of spare time.”

In truth, Corliss should be afraid, very afraid. The divide between the world of the web and traditional reviewing is narrowing, as column inches for arts reviews are shrinking in newspapers and magazines, while commercial pressures are morphing criticism into a bastardized form of feature writing. Reviewers no longer are given enough room to write well, even if they could. All they have left is their expert thumbs, flicking up and down.

The case of Kakutani is symptomatic of a dirty secret: arts critics have been, and are, hired by mainstream publications for many reasons. The ability to write with humor, daring, and passion is not on the top of the list. Editors figure that the publication lends the reviewer gravitas and power, rather than what he says or how well he says it.

: And Doug Fox criticizes dance critics with many suggestions for change.

: See also Kay Inigo on the marketing of Pirates of the Caribbean via MySpace.

Who killed the critics?

Who needs critics anymore? Wall Street Journal movie critic Joe Morgenstern bemoans the state of his world today, when he sees a report that studios are releasing more movies without showing them to critics. That could be because there are more bad movies today. But no, it really illustrates a fundamental shift in the dynamics of pop culture thanks to the internet. The Being-Reasonable bloggers write at

The tactic of skipping advance screenings is taking hold now because the dynamics of movie marketing and pre-release publicity have changed. Like other professional arbiters of taste, movie reviewers just don’t matter quite as much as they used to. Once upon a time, they were the point of origin for popular opinion. In an age of ratings Web sites and consumer-generated content, they are just one voice of many.

Pop-cultural criticism is, if not doomed, on a severe decline for a few reasons:

The first is that we are all now critics. You no longer have to wait for the friend you trust — who, I’ve long said, is the best critic for you — to see a movie, you can now find friends online or watch the aggregate opinions of people online or go write a review yourself. And it’s not just movies, of course. Amazon’s audience is everybody’s critic for everybody’s product. (Who needs Consumer Reports is another question we may be asking eventually.)

The second is that in the failing economics of big, old media, critics are dispensible.

And there’s this: As media explodes with more and more choice, one critic or one publication simply can’t keep up with it all. That was efficient when you had one-screen theaters and three TV channels and no internet and no tools that let anyone create media.

I shocked Howard Kurtz when I suggested that newspapers could get rid of their own critics and help their audiences share their own opinions instead.

If I launched Entertainment Weekly today, I hope I’d have the sense not to propose starting a magazine by hiring a bunch of critics. Oh, I might have a few of them, if they’re really worth reading. But I’d turn Entertainment Weekly into Entertainment Whenever, an online event that brings together opinions on entertainment, big and small, from anywhere, and I’d use technology to help you find the critics you trust.

The truth is that criticism isn’t dying. It’s opening up now that everyone is a critic.