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August 14, 2010

On the Meaning of being a Critic

Michael Phillips, movie critic for the Chicago Tribune and one of my favorite critics, has a thoughtful piece about the Donald Rosenberg case. Rosenberg is the longtime classical music critic at the Cleveland Plain Dealer who was taken off the Cleveland Orchestra beat last year after the paper's top editor decided that he'd said all he had to say (Rosenberg's version of the story, of course, was the point of his lawsuit). Last week, Rosenberg's case against the Plain Dealer went down in flames. There's been considerable chatter about it on Twitter under the hashtag #DonR. Phillips:

As the Cleveland situation asserted, no critic has a "right" to a compensated opinion. We serve at the pleasure of our employers. And yet we're only worth reading when we push our luck and ourselves, and remember that without a sense of freedom, coupled with a sense that we cannot squander it, we're just filler. As David Mamet said to a gathering of theater critics back in 1978: If you are not "striving to improve and to write informedly and morally and to a purpose, you are a hack and a plaything of your advertisers." 

The advertisers are fewer now. Times are not easy. But a critic must write as if he has everything and nothing to lose, just as a filmmaker or an artistic director or a music director should have no choice but to aim high and dig deeply and damn all the rest of it. Otherwise, it's steady as she goes and one more paycheck (if you're fortunate) gratefully received, and that simply is not good enough.

It's an interesting piece and a meditation on what it means to be a critic. 

Approached the wrong way criticism is an inherently arrogant and narcissistic pursuit, yet what I'm left with, increasingly, is how humbling it is. It's hard to get a review right for yourself, let alone for anyone reading it later. It's even harder to be an artist worth writing and reading about, because so much conspires against even an inspired artist's bravest efforts.

Check it out.
August 14, 2010 12:52 PM | | Comments (0)

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