A piece by Thomas Garry in today’s Daily Gorilla suggests that the Internet has made an infinite number of ways for people’s opinions to be heard, and therefore diminished the standing of the legitimate critic.
This is something I touched on a week or so ago in my comments on the CJR piece about arts criticism, and I bring it up not only to show that the Zeitgeist is grappling with this right now, but that the idea of criticism in general is what’s under siege here.
Just to second the arguments I made earlier, the Gorilla piece quotes Tom Moon, the former Philadelphia Inquirer music critic, and paraphrases him this way:
The online blog and review culture of saying whatever is “cute, smart or attention-grabbing” gives less chance for context and leaves no room for reasoned discussion, Moon says. The problem is that few people have an extensive knowledge or understanding of what went into the work. As critics more and more simply report their visceral feelings, actually knowing something about music has become seemingly unnecessary.
As I said in my earlier post, those of us who believe in the art of criticism take it very seriously indeed. In the last two days, I’ve reviewed two different casts in the Palm Beach Opera production of Bellini’s Norma (still not one of my favorite scores), and to prepare I went back to the recording, to YouTube excerpts (mostly of various divas doing, well, Casta Diva), and looked at the full vocal score on the International Music Score Library Project (the full orchestral score is there, too, but the download was so large my computer started to whine in protest).
I played through portions of the score on the piano, read excerpts of three or four books on opera of the period, read my Grove’s entries on Bellini and other topics operatic, and did my best to compare what I was seeing and hearing with previous performances (I hadn’t seen Norma live in a long time). I think that’s the kind of thing you have to do when you’re a critic, and it sort of comes down to your own personal sense of integrity rather than the clout of whatever outlet you’re writing for. My reviews might not have been as good as others, but I have come by them honestly.
I still think that good critical voices will rise up to assume the role in culture that they always have, because most consumers of culture are just that — consumers — and they don’t have time to do elaborate research projects before going to an arts event. The best and most reliable expert opinion will out, but it will do so in different technological formats than before.
But I don’t think the wave of opinion on the Net will in the long run destroy the role of the real expert or the true critic, or make a career in criticism impossible. Only a small number of people at any one time will have the intellectual interest and the drive to spend their time writing about (or talking about) the arts, and we’re going to need them even more than we did in the past because we’re going to have even more choices.