John Rockwell, the former dance critic for the New York Times writes extremely well about what it is like to be a critic.
Critics may be full of themselves, but they do have a higher conception of their role than artists and presenters. We see the critic’s role as a noble one – trying to encapsulate in resistant prose the artistic experiences we encounter, maybe helping to educate our readers and provide them a sounding board for their own opinions, advancing the standards of an art form we love. Critics must love the art in question and bring a certain level of expertise (technical, historical, experiential) to the job. Underneath all that, they have to have the gift of good writing. Critics are not there to serve the dance community or particular artists. They are there to join in – lead, maybe, in a dominant paper – a wider conversation and shared enthusiasm about the art form.They are not there to serve the dance community or particular artists. They are there to join in – lead, maybe, in a dominant paper – a wider conversation and shared enthusiasm about the art form.
There is an inherent tension between reviewers and reviewed, and that’s inevitable, even healthy. Critics who are overly friendly with certain artists and champion them incessantly lose the confidence of their attentive readers. Every critic, more properly every good critic, has a sensibility that becomes evident to readers over time: they particularly like ballet or experimental dance or ethnic dance or tap dance or historical dance or certain dancers and choreographers. That might make those who fall outside the favored circle upset, but a critic who blandly likes everything is hardly the solution. Nor is the critic who tries to confine him/herself to “objective,” nonjudgmental description much help. The very act of description and the choice of what to describe amounts to a subjective judgment, and anyhow, readers want critics to render a judgment, if only to calibrate it with their own, to confirm what a genius or idiot the critic truly is.And I can assure you, whatever bitchiness the reviewed may feel about the reviewers is nothing next to the bitchiness reviewers feel among themselves.