At The House Next Door, Jeremiah Kipp talks with critic Charles Taylor about what reviewers do (and ought to do) today: “I’ve heard people say that if a critic has a professed dislike for someone’s work, someone else should review it so the artist gets a fair hearing. Well, we already have that. It’s called publicity. It’s not a critic’s job to go in concerned with being positive. But news people are trained in that journalist’s way of thinking, “You get the facts. You report them. You provide evidence to support the position.” Critics take imaginative leaps, they employ] hyperbole and that makes the reportorial mindset very nervous, and they don’t get it. It all comes back to that line Truffaut said about how no one at a newspaper has less respect than the movie critic. No one is going to tell the dance critic or classical music critic how to do their jobs… No one is going to say to a reporter who has been on the scene he or she is writing about, “Oh, you don’t know what’s happening there.” … Like a reporter, the critic is the one going out day after day, seeing movies, thinking about how they fit into the culture. Editors, for the most part, sit behind their desk saying they heard buzz on this or that.
But all that usually means is they heard publicity from somewhere, often from publicists who are calling to pitch them on getting coverage for their movies, or from other editors who’ve been pitched by publicists, or in magazine pieces which resulted because some editor was successfully pitched to by a publicist. They’re not relying on the people who are actually out doing the footwork. That’s a real problem. The critic should reflect the culture as honestly as he or she can. If you’re a regular critic and you’ve got that weekly outlet, you’re essentially writing a diary of the culture, and not in the stupid think pieces sort of way. You’re reflecting the tone of what’s going on week in and week out. A portrait of the culture you’re dealing with can’t help but emerge from that. If you’re honest about what your response is, you’re serving your reader whether they agree with you or not.” [More at the link, including why he’s no longer at Salon.]