It’s an old story: arts and entertainment is nothing but fluff. Real journalists are supposed to stick to current events: politics, health, technology, perhaps even environmentalism. They inform the public about issues that matter, and as such serve an obvious purpose. For many, arts and entertainment critics do little more than give advice on how the average person should spend his or her free time.
Maybe, as some suggest, critics just aren’t good enough to actually be artists in their own right. Maybe the old adage was true all along: those who can’t do, teach, and those who can’t teach . . . well, they critique.
For one reason or another, a critic’s job entitles him or her to have a certain level of authority over writers, performers, musicians, and filmmakers. They assess whatever it is that the artists have created, assign it a value of some sort, and give it a stamp of approval or rejection. It’s a strange position to be in, and begs an important question: who are they to say what an artist should or shouldn’t do?
The truth, however, is that they do have a right to judge, to be critical, and to asses the quality of someone’s work (that’s not to say that they have a right to be a jackass). And it isn’t just critics who have a right to critique; everyone does.
Art is often a personal, and sometimes a private endeavour, but it isn’t meant to stay locked in the closet forever; it’s a cultural phenomenon that’s meant to be experienced–books are written to be read, films made to be watched, and music composed to be listened to. It’s only natural, then, that we respond to these artistic ventures in whichever way seems most appropriate given the quality of the work being presented.
When more and more of any particular art form is created, however, expectations are inevitably going to rise. On the one hand, this makes it considerably more difficult for rising artists to be recognized for their work. On the other hand, it forces those artists to move beyond the cliché and the commonplace, and to struggle for the considerably more difficult, yet undeniably more satisfying turn of phrase, brushstroke, or chord progression.
It’s A&E critics who formalize this process. They learn as much as they can about each individual art form, about the numerous contributions to each art form, and about the way these contributions can be best understood. It’s their job to offer an informed perspective the general public can use to better choose how they spend their time and (in most cases) their money. After all, musicians, writers, filmmakers, and artists in general come a dime a dozen, and choosing between them isn’t always easy.
But don’t misunderstand me: art isn’t just a product to be consumed. Indeed, the works that artists create will influence the lifestyles of numerous generations to come—as much as art often imitates life, the opposite is equally true. Critics, then, are our cultural guides. Sure, we often ignore them, but they’ve always been on the sidelines, always offering their advice, and always pushing for something new, innovative, and original.
In today’s world of mass consumption and hyper stimulation, that has to count for something.
Rowing For Pleasure is a weekly opinions column written by Z S Roe. Please leave a comment or question—all opinions are welcome, and all contributions are greatly appreciated. If you like what you read here, please subscribe.