Apollinaire: the critics critiqued (with new, incendiary commentary!)

Time Out New York’s current issue is devoted to critiquing the critics. Artists, curators, and publicists weigh in on reviewers in all fields: books, theater, dance, art, etc.
I think the idea is GREAT, its execution less so.
First, though, this full disclosure: they included ME! [Insert jig around the apartment here.] And no one said anything mean about me! So, seriously, how much can I object?
Well, a little, maybe.
Here are a few things that make the project less useful than it might have been –or could be in the future. (I hope there’s another edition.)
Judging panelists too much of a mixed bag
A publicist is not the same as an artist. The job of a publicist is to get her clients the best coverage–the widest and the most positive. Her opinions of critics are necessarily skewed. Artists (dancers, choreographers) can also be self-serving, but they’re not required to be. With publicists included among the curators and artists, the Time Out project is trying to do too many divergent things at once. If you want to know how “nice” we are, that’s one thing; how well we write, what we know, another.
Not clear how critics made the list
Why am I on there but not the New York Observer’s Robert Gottlieb, who wields a lot more influence, at least among critics? And shouldn’t it matter how often you publish? In which case, why the Wall Street Journal’s Robert Greskovic, with three pieces in as many months, and not Bloomberg.com’s Tobi Tobias, with one or two articles a week, or–if only print publications count–Joel Lobenthal or Joy Goodwin of the New York Sun, or Robert Johnson of New Jersey’s Star-Ledger?
Panelists too small a pool
There are only about a dozen panelists for dance. (I say “about” because some of the artists and publicists may be answering to dance, theater, or both: the list doesn’t specify.) There’s little representation among the judges of big companies and ballet. A downtown bias may be nice for a change, but it doesn’t accurately reflect the field.
Categories are dubious; “average,” silly
Each critic was graded (yep, assigned a number) according to these five criteria: knowledge; style; taste; accessibility; influence. The scores were then combined and averaged to figure out each of our places on the list. (I’m not on the bottom! YAY!)
First, to knock off the obvious: What’s this “accessibility”? How promptly you answer your email? Whether you have nice phone manners? Please. Too close to personality contest for comfort.
Second, “influence” certainly matters. What you say at The New Yorker or the Times counts for a good deal more than what I say at Newsday. (Have I told you how many well-meaning people can’t remember which paper I write for, try as they might? “Is it the Daily News?” they ask timidly. “Newsweek? O Apollinaire, just tell me.”)
But influence and the quality of the writing (here, “taste,” “style,” and “knowledge”) aren’t simply different categories, but dynamically and unpredictably yoked. For example, a writer for a prestigious publication may actually have more influence–more effect on the health of the art–when he’s a moron: Dance sounds so petty that people who don’t know any better decide to stay away. A different calculation than averaging is necessary here.
If that’s all there is…
What counts in criticism according to Time Out is “taste,” “style,” and “knowledge.”
I don’t have a problem with “style”–it basically means people enjoy reading you. But “knowledge” without “insight”? There are plenty of critics who see everything and know their history, but have absolutely no insight into their experience, which is where art lies.
“Taste” is worst of all. “Taste” is about values and aesthetic sensitivities: if you have “taste” (as if there were only one), you have made the grade, can join the club, whichever club you’re after. If I thought that that’s what art was about, I’d quit right now. The point of art is not to reinforce values we already have, but to create new ones, make you experience something you haven’t yet, so you return not quite the same person. To say that a critic’s got “good taste” is just saying, “She’s like me!” How small it makes the venture of art.
Still, I’m really glad Time Out is taking on this topic. [Insert a few twirls around the apartment here.] And next year, they’ll probably do better.
Addendum: Fellow (what’s the female of “fellow”? “lassy”?) AJ blogger Lee Rosenbaum aka Culturegrrl has also weighed in: more factors to skew the results.

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