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May 15, 2006

In defense of critics


In Chris Lavin's Poynter piece (and again in the post below), Lavin engages in whumping broadsides against critics and criticdom without naming names or citing examples. That makes it a little tough to respond, but I'll try. In his Poynter essay he wrote:

"Reviews, almost by their definition, are narrowly focused -- they speak to the theater community and to people who attended the show or are considering attending a show. I don't believe they attract the eyes of the non-theater-going community nor do I think they are generally written in a way that makes the art form more accessible to a broad newspaper or television audience."

That's a problem with the reviewer, not with the concept of reviewing a show. The best arts criticism presents art within the context  in which the art was made -- or the context in which it is seen today. It takes on questions such as: Why does this art matter (or not matter) now? How and why is, say, Goya relevant today? Or not? (The critical crue at the LA Times is the best example of this. I couldn't give two snits about classical music, but I love reading Mark Swed.)

And is Lavin actually saying that blogs (which he seems to dismiss as "the unwashed") are akin to word-of-mouth banter, to gossiping? If the only blogs he reads are Perez Hilton-style, sure. But if he's reading Ed Winkleman or Terry Teachout or Barry Hoggard or James Wagner or PORT...

And does Lavin really think that blogs are "obscuring" the work of "professionals?" Can he give some examples of that? It seems a rather remarkable -- even unlikely -- charge.

Posted by at May 15, 2006 11:40 AM


So far in this discussion (which I've relished, by the way; thank you again, Mr. McLennan) no one has yet addressed the probability that the blogs and the traditional outlets are going to become increasingly difficult to distinguish as time goes on. A service offering syndicated blog content to the websites of newspapers already exists. More will come. Eventually, an essay will go from a blog to print. I see a possible future in which newspapers and magazines serve as aggregators of individual talents, similar to how a basketball team works. (Right now, unfortunately, they work more like a university faculty, with entrenched figures at the center surrounded by a part-time pool of adjuncts. You can bet that no one stays past their useful tenure on a basketball team.) Some of these talented people will come out of traditional journalism backgrounds, some will blog, and many will do both. This will affect the very idea of the "professional." If the basketball player analogy holds, it may come to mean "somebody who does what they do better than most other people out there." I see that as positive. I don't believe in credentialling or even training, for their own sakes. I believe in good writing.

Posted by: Franklin Einspruch at May 15, 2006 5:54 PM

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