critic (KRIT-ik), n. [Latin criticus, from Greek kritikos, able to discern or judge] 1. person who expresses a reasonable opinion on a matter involving judgment of its value, truth or morality, an appreciation of its beauty or technique, or an interpretation. 2. person prone to harsh, cynical or sarcastic judgment or finding fault.
Unfortunately, it’s the second meaning that most people associate with the word, not the first. Even some arts editors of big-town newspapers believe that if a reviewer will not find some fault with an enjoyable performance or exhibition, that reviewer is not doing his job.
The Job of a Critic
And what job is that? To find fault? No. The job of the critic is to view and/or hear some work of art and then use sound reasoning and extensive knowledge of the field being evaluated to form solid, constructive opinions. Sometimes those opinions are positive.
Sometimes they’re not. But a critic should never write a scathing review unless that person has strong and powerful reasons to back it up. Too often, however, critics will fall all over each other in trying to come up with the most vicious, biting remarks to describe something they hate. Even if a critic hates it, write about it constructively, not destructively. Have opinions, likes and dislikes, but if stating something negatively, be ready to back it up.
Even Negative Reviews Must be Balanced
Even in a negative review, one should still go out of one’s way to find something good in all that bad. Why? Bear in mind that the individuals involved in such a travesty may be giving it their all to make it work and such effort and dedication should not be punished in print but acknowledged in a more positive light.
There will be critics who will develop prejudices, even wallow in them. One doesn’t like minimalist music and so absolutely refuses to understand what all the fuss is about. One may not be a fan of that early music of Philip Glass, Steve Reich and Co., but one should still go read up on it to better understand its place in American classical-music history. Such knowledge would enrich his/her review and not be all personal taste.
Personal, Not Prejudicial, Reviews
Yes, personal taste plays a role, a big role, in a review. But first and foremost is examining the quality of the performance being offered, then the product. Those are two very different aspects. One can say, “The play stunk.” What does that mean? The playwright bombed? Or the director trying to bring it to life stumbled? Or the performers entrusted by the director failed to do their jobs?
How about, “The recital was a failure.” Why? Because the performers had no clue? Or the works selected were weaker representatives of the composer’s art? There are too many variables for the critic to make easy, snap judgments about what was seen and heard. The critic must keep an open mind and take into account just why something he/she isn’t crazy about is nonetheless popular.