The practice of arts criticism has taken its lumps lately. People wonder if there's a place for the critic--especially the film critic--in the age of blogs and social media, and more than one observer has been happy to declare the discipline, as Monty Python might put it, wholly bereft of life.
But A. O. Scott, esteemed film critic for The New York Times and frequent guest host of critic's-critic institution At the Movies, dismissed the doomsayers this week. In a Times essay, Scott makes perhaps the definitive argument for the longevity of arts criticism, even in a world of shrinking media budgets and ubiquitous 140-character reviews. "Rotten movies routinely make huge sums of money in spite of the demurral of critics," Scott admits, and "social networking and marketing algorithms and a nattering gaggle of bloggers" cast a shadow on the industry. Yet even so:
The circumstances in which the art of criticism is practiced are always changing, but the state of the art is remarkably constant. Which is to say that, from a certain angle, the future of criticism is always bleak and the present always a riot of ill-informed opinion and boisterous disputation.
Scott then cites woeful passages about the degradation and dumbing-down of criticism from canonical figures like T. S. Eliot and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. People have always fretted about the state of this art, Scott says, but it's always survived:
It is not a profession and does not stand or fall with any particular business model. Criticism is a habit of mind, a discipline of writing, a way of life ... As such, it is always apt to be misunderstood, undervalued and at odds with itself. Artists will complain, fans will tune out, but the arguments will never end ... The future of criticism is the same as it ever was.