Gauging the Importance of Criticism

An article in The Guardian linked from Arts Journal suggests that, since the best-selling albums do not match up to critics’ top-ten choices, the public clearly pays no attention to music criticism, which is thereby demonstrated to have become irrelevant. The obvious retort to this was published decades ago by Virgil Thomson, and since Googling it produces no results, it seems advisable to trot it out again here: “Music criticism may be unnecessary. It is certainly inefficient. But it is the only antidote we have to paid publicity.” The fact that paid publicity is so massively effective these days does not mean that criticism has become unimportant; on the contrary, it is more crucial than ever that it be written and supported. We need a name for this ubiquitous and debilitating fallacy that, even in a corporate fascist state like ours, what the people buy a lot of must therefore be what the people like.

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