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Should Critics Go To Lunch With Artists?

July 31, 2008

There's an idealistic belief in some parts of the media world (The New York Times, The New Yorker etc.) that critics should stay away from the people they write about. The grounds for this are simple: If a critic gets too chummy with an artist he or she can no longer maintain an "objective" stance while reviewing that person's work.

The media landscape has changed so much over the past decade or so that that only very few media outlets can pretend to keep up this charade. With most newspapers and magazines either doing away with their arts writers altogether, or merging the reviewing and feature-writing functions into one job description, the "critical distance" proposition is becoming almost entirely untenable.

Instead of fretting about the "loss of objectivity" within the arts writing realm, I propose that the arts journalism community should take a different approach to dealing with the issue. Instead of shrinking away from the problem of interfacing with artists and then writing about them, I think critics should embrace the privilege of their new-found "insider knowledge" and challenge themselves to write with clarity, wit and understanding in spite of it all.

Objectivity is a sham anyway. Even those critics that wear hats and sunglasses when they go to a theatre and rush out during the applause still come to every arts experience with their internal prejudices.

We need to accept that the landscape is changing. There's no reason why we shouldn't be able to harness the new reality to deliver smarter, deeper and more committed writing about the arts. We shouldn't be afraid of getting our hands dirty while we're at it. Writing less than positively in response to a piece of art when you've gotten to know an artist a little bit isn't much fun. But if we do it well, and with compassion at our core, then I believe we've performed a valuable service for our readers and maybe, though it seems unlikely at first, even for the artists too.

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