Note: This question, like three others we’re asking this week, are inspired by our Review Unit and related contest, in which we invite teenagers to write their own takes on a work from any of the 13 categories of creative expression that The Times reviews. If you are participating in the contest, we invite you to use this as a kind of “rehearsal space” to post ideas and see how others respond.
And, of course, even if you’re not participating, we’d love to hear your thoughts.
How much, in general, do those other opinions sway you?
Is everyone qualified to be a critic? What’s the difference between the kinds of user-submitted reviews you read online and cultural criticism by a professional critic? Don’t worry if you’re not sure. Below, we’ve rounded up several pieces that ask questions about the role of reviewers and cultural criticism in our world today.
On the job of a professional critic
In “A Times Arts Critic Reviews His Own Role,” the movie critic A.O. Scott explains what he does:
By the end of this year, if recent history is any guide, around 900 movies will have opened in theaters in the United States. Hundreds more will have made their debuts on streaming platforms, along with more than a million hours of serial programming on traditional networks, cable channels and web-based broadcasters like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon. Defying periodic reports of its demise, live theater is flourishing: on Broadway and off, in Brooklyn and Chicago, in London and Louisville. Nearly every week brings new dance recitals, chamber music concerts, pop albums, museum and gallery exhibitions — am I missing anything?
Everyone is always missing something, but the critics who write for The New York Times — in staff positions and as regular freelancers — collectively strive to miss as little as possible, and to provide some help to readers faced with the overwhelming abundance of contemporary culture. How to make sense of it all? How to choose?
Those are difficult questions, and they aren’t the same question. Part of the critic’s job is to offer consumer advice. You want to know if a given performance or exhibit is worth your time. But criticism doesn’t stop with warnings and recommendations. (The Times doesn’t use stars, thumbs or letter grades, but especially worthy productions are designated Critic’s Picks.) Whether or not we like the thing we’re reviewing, we are interested in what it means, how it works (or doesn’t), why it matters (or doesn’t), and how it reflects and is part of the larger world. We assume that readers are looking not only for advice, but also for ideas, arguments, provocations and the occasional joke. We hope that, even if you skip the movie, give up on the show or can’t get tickets to the opera, you’ll at least find something worth reading.
On who is qualified to be a critic
In a 2015 column, “Is Everyone Qualified to Be a Critic?”, two Times critics discuss what it takes to pass judgment on the arts. Adam Kirsch writes:
Everyone, upon encountering a work of art, has some kind of response. In this sense, everyone really is a critic … To be able to say what you feel and why: That is the basic equipment of a critic.
In the same column, however, Charles McGrath argues:
If for a start we require that critics know what they’re talking about — that their judgments are actually informed — the field thins considerably, and if we also insist on taste and discernment, then the number of valuable and useful critics dwindles pretty drastically.
On the role of the critic today
A 2010 edition of the Sunday Book Review asked six essayists to consider the question: What is the role of the critic today?