Review: Criticising the Critics

There’s nothing quite like being reviewed in the city of Manhattan. Whether it’s art, food, theater or design, the reviewers in this town pride themselves on never being impressed.  They live in New York, so they’ve seen, heard it, worn it, tasted it all before, ho hum.

Omniscience must be exhausting. Quite a cross to bear knowing how much better it could/should/would have been, had they only been consulted beforehand.

With print space for the arts dwindling, and a multitude of amateurs clogging the blog-o-sphere, the reviewer often has as much to prove as the artist. How does one stand apart from the crowd?  Certainly not by being agreeable, appreciative or generally happy. Instead, misery, cynicism and splenetic snark now rule. The saddest rationalization though, is the reviewer who believes the review itself is an art form.

It was somewhere in the mid 1990’s when it became an unspoken fact that the Arts & Leisure section of the New York Times was essentially for sale.  After dropping however many thousands of dollars for a double page color ad, the review of said concert, film or play was anything but objective.  In cases where it tilted toward the negative, you’d be sure to see a glowing “profile” close by, replete with color photos and some lure for interactive on the website. Things change…

My favorite illustration of the hard truth that most critics don’t know shit about shit came in a Hollywood prank. A frustrated screenwriter/agent/producer (the story varies) had been negated over and over by “coverage readers” who trashed his scripts.  “Coverage” is script analysis often done youths lacking any kind of training what-so-ever. The majority of those doing coverage are frustrated writers stuck on the bottom rung of the industry ladder often with a liberal arts degree. They’re hoping to make ends meet without taking their eyes off their laptops, and maybe get lucky and pucker up to the executive.

Coverage that says, this isn’t good enough, pass on it, frees them from the responsibility of saying This is worthy, spend millions, here’s my signature saying so.  If a script comes in from an unknown writer, it has to suck, otherwise I would have heard of him/her.  If your name is in the system from a previous script sale, and you’re “hot”, you can bet the coverage will suddenly be better.

So this writer/agent/producer takes the cover page off of an Academy Award winning screenplay, puts a new title and his own name on it, and sends it all over town.  The coverage comes back universally negative. Everyone passes on the script. No on has a fucking clue.

So don’t take it personally when your work is poorly reviewed, dismissed, trashed.  Even if it does suck, you’re achieved more than the person who hasn’t produced anything besides an opinion.  Consider yourself the boss of this person. For without you, the artist who takes a risk to present, expose, articulate, empathize… the reviewer ceases to exist.

“I never met anybody who said when they were a kid, “I wanna grow up and be a critic.” — Richard Pryor

“Any reviewer who expresses rage and loathing for a novel is preposterous. He or she is like a person who has put on full armor and attacked a hot fudge sundae.” — Kurt Vonnegut

“Making judgments on films is in many ways so peculiarly vaporous an occupation that the only question is why, beyond the obvious opportunities for a few lectures fees and a little careerism at a dispiritingly self-limiting level, anyone does it in the first place.” — Joan Didion

“Too often do reviewers remind us of the mob of Astrologers, Chaldeans, and Soothsayers gathered before ‘the writing on the wall’ and unable to read the characters or make known the interpretation.” — Charlotte Brontë

“How much easier it is to be critical than to be correct.” –Benjamin Disraeli

“Asking a working writer what he thinks about critics is like asking a lamppost how it feels about dogs.”  –Christopher Hampton

“Any fool can criticize, condemn, and complain – and most fools do.” –Dale Carnegie

“After all, one knows one’s weak points so well, that it’s rather bewildering to have the critics overlook them and invent others.” –Edith Wharton

“To avoid criticism do nothing, say nothing, be nothing.” –Elbert Hubbard

“Do what you feel in your heart to be right – for you’ll be criticized anyway. You’ll be damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.” –Eleanor Roosevelt

“Honest criticism is hard to take, particularly from a relative, a friend, an acquaintance, or a stranger.” — Franklin P. Jones

“Now, in reality, the world have paid too great a compliment to critics, and have imagined them to be men of much greater profundity than they really are.” –Henry Fielding

“Pay no attention to what the critics say… Remember, a statue has never been erected in honor of one!”  –Jean Sibelius

“Against criticism a man can neither protest nor defend himself; he must act in spite of it, and then it will gradually yield to him.” –Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

“Criticism comes easier than craftsmanship.” –Zeuxis



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