You love to hate them. You often disagree with them. They often come across as bitterly disappointed artists who have set out to exact revenge on their failures by panning every good play they go to see. They are our art critics. However, they are some of the art's greatest advocates. How many other people write about the arts on a daily basis? Not many people make it their job to raise awareness of the cultural goings on in a city. And no matter how many shows a critic rips apart in his or her column, the amount of terrible shows he or she has to suffer through will always be exponentially higher.
But our arts criticism is in serious crisis right now for a number of reasons. The first is that newspapers are in desperate straights right now as more and more of us are getting our news from online sources. This means that to save costs, many papers are laying-off their local reporters; and who brings the paper more revenue, their arts critic or their sports writer? Even before the economic recession, arts critics were seeing tough times in their labor markets. And now that our poor newspapers are filing for bankruptcy and closing left and right, what is that going to mean for arts coverage?
Will the bloggers step up to fill the void? In Chicago there are already a larger number of online reviews and reviewers. Even through Chris Jones of the Chicago Tribune has a large paper that isn't going away for right now, he still maintains a blog. The New York International Fringe Festival was covered almost exclusively by online sources. But is this really the same as getting a tip from the newspaper. How are you going to know which reviews are fair after doing a google search without the weight of a major paper behind them? Were they ever fair to begin with?
While bloggers will fill the void (at least until the next best thing comes along), our best critics will always be our friends. Think about it: how many of the past few shows you've seen were because of Chris Jones or Heidi Weiss or was it because one of your friends saw the show and had a good time? We have the most influence over our friends and peers and now more than ever we need to step up and be the advocating voice for the arts. There is a void being created by a disorganized critic scene - now is your opportunity to make sure that the shows you feel are worth seen and worth of praise get good reviews.
Happy Birthday: Patti LuPone (b. 1949)