Capitalism can be so cruel sometimes. Our financially driven society continues to ensure that the arts continue to get marginalized and pushed off to the side. This explains everything from poor arts funding, trickling down to unpopular ticket sales, failing ballet companies, cutbacks on arts education (which has sadly, become the norm now), and the cause of more recent rumblings, the firing of dance and arts critics. Shockwaves rippled when the LA Times fired its chief dance critic, Lewis Segal. It continued like a tidal wave when Deborah Jowitt got cut from full time to freelance status from the Village Voice. The cutbacks continued with critics leaving at the OC Register, and a whopping 85 journalists leaving the NY Times, including a brave but sharp-edged classical music critic Bernard Holland and dance critic Jennifer Dunning, along with a group of arts editors. It leaves people wondering how bad this is going to get, and what is the future of arts coverage and criticism?
It’s so much more than less importance is being placed on the arts. It’s that these people like Jowitt set the standard for the arts and arts journalism; it’s also the fear that the quality of arts criticism will begin to crumble, in addition to the symbolic (albeit unintentional?) message that arts journalism (and thus, the arts) is unimportant and expendable. I realize that many are saying that blogging will take over in return, but that thought scares me. Even as a blogger myself, I realize that my writing is more informal as a single enthusiastic audience member, and coexists with dance criticism but never in lieu of it. It is hard to ignore though, the bigger role that blogging is already starting to occupy. It’s already interesting to see how arts organizations are handling this alarming new trend.
Edwin Denby, a highly influential dance critic of all time, writes that there is a direct relationship between smart incisive dance criticism and the quality of dancing that is shown to the public. In lamenting the lack of great dance critics in newspapers, he writes, “If only another half-dozen specialized and intelligent dance critics were writing on metropolitan papers, the public all over the country would profit considerably. Not that well-informed critics would agree on all details – far from it – but they could with a sharper authority insist on an improved general level of current production”. If the addition of dance critics improves the quality of dance, would the removal of those said critics lead to dance’s deteoriation?
The UK Times writes in a fascinating article, “If there is no intellectual, aesthetic, political, spiritual, passionate argument about what gets made, then the only arbiters of value are the box office and the phone-in. Bad culture drives out good unless there is someone there to stop it. Look at cinema, which is now virtually critic-proof.” It’s interesting that this idea insinuates that arts critics were first installed in order to prevent the natural order of capitalism, where demand and profit drives supply rather than the quality of it. And now critics are losing the war against which they were installed in the first place.
What does the future of the arts and arts criticism look like, withouts its stalwart standards like Jowitt, Segal, and Holland? How will the decline in arts criticism impact the arts itself?
On a side note: with less and less coverage of the arts, it’s sometimes difficult to pick out what to read, and who to believe. My advice is, as an actively engaged audience member, read as much as you can about the shows that you just saw. Read criticism with an open mind, by both opening your mind to accept new possibilities of things you might have missed or not considered, as well as feeling free to disagree. There will always be people who you consistently agree with, but you’ll never find one person you’ll always agree with.There are reviewers that I trust more readily than others, but that only comes with reading their reviews in the first place. I’m also fascinated by reading other people’s thoughts of the shows I just saw; it sometimes changes my mind about things and almost always opens my eyes to view things in a new way.
Other than newspaper arts criticism, I still believe that the strongest way to keep interest in the arts is to encourage audience to think actively about things, form opinions, have discussions and continue reading arts criticism. And ultimately, keep attending events. Quoting the Times quote above, one of the goals of this blog is to encourage “intellectual, aesthetic, political, spiritual, passionate argument about what gets made”, whether you agree with me or not.
Someone brought up the good point that lots of people were complaining about arts critics anyways, and so this is a good time to fix what was broken. I’m not sure if I completely agree with the statement, but we can all do our part in continuing to support the arts. I just hope the art itself won’t suffer because of the media’s decision to cuts its arts critics.
And if they fire all the critics, who will we disagree with?