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October 28, 2008

Personal Contact and "Objectivity"

A few days ago my wife and I were in Dayton, Ohio, working for Obama, and she told me a story. She met a black woman who told her she was for McCain. Not that some other black people aren't for McCain, too, but Linda asked Why? The answer was that the woman had shaken his hand on a rope line eight years ago and formed (in her mind) a bond.

Which led me to thinking arts-journalistically, of course. Critics are routinely asked to do interviews. We meet artists; we chat them up; sometimes we actually like them. Having met them, they become something more to us than a distant artist performing up there on a stage. We don't have to become their fans, obsessively following their every move, but deep down we may still root for them.

So back to the old argument about how much critics should socially involve themselves with artists and the (musical or whatever) community -- interviews being understood as a preliminary, vestigial stage of social involvement. Insider critics (like Joe Horowitz) argue that critics cut themselves off from the art they're supposed to know and love by denying social contact. Outsider, or"objective," critics contend that an unbiased view of a performance, untainted by personal sympathy, is worth any loss of insider knowledge.

Me, I waffle. I used to be more stictly an outsider, but the exigencies of a professional career plus a mellowing (eroding?) of my stern standards have led me to see both sides of the argument. No one can be purely objective, yet excessive palling around, with artists or terrorists, is not so good, either.

Of course, in arts journalism today, where newspapers are asking their remaining staff to multi-task and freelancers are hustling any way they can, such niceties as a pure critic's avoiding interviews are a quaint reminder of the past. So the next time you're on a ropeline with Osvaldo Golijov, go ahead and press the flesh. He's a very nice guy; I know from personal experience.

October 28, 2008 11:13 AM | | Comments (0)

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