The restaurant and wine critic Daniel Rogov passed away last week. Can his death be seen as a symbol of the disappearance of the critic's role from the world?
At first glance, it appears that the critic's function has not lost its centrality. Every major media outlet has a restaurant critic, a film critic, a TV critic, an art critic, a music critic, a theater critic and a book critic. But are all these critics? Or has the meaning of the term criticism changed?
Literary criticism tends to take precedence over art criticism. Whatever their relative status, both these spheres consolidated over the years as the vocation of experts who had tremendous stores of knowledge; thanks to their expertise, the idea of criticism took root and prospered in the middle of the 20th century as independent fields of research.
Up until 15 years ago, the role of critic was played by persons who burnished their skills in these fields of research. Their function was to enrich the experience of the reader/viewer/listener by displaying their vast knowledge of facts, and their familiarity with theories germane to the field.
This function of enrichment, which featured the dissection and re-assembling of works of art, turned criticism into its own field of writing. In this type of writing, theory influences the way in which a work of art is interpreted; and theory needed to make itself applicable to criticism.
Dramatic changes have shifted the meaning of the critic's role. When criticism was at its peak, its practitioner could be compared to a psychoanalyst who interprets the dreams of his society.
And what is a critic today? Apart from a few who struggle to maintain high critical standards, the sphere of criticism can be divided today into three schools.
The first group of critics belong to the school of "I loved it / I didn't like it." These are critics who perceive their role as the expression of their own personal taste. The critic's personal taste is perceived as a legitimate, consistent standard upon which the entire criticism can be founded.
The second group defines the critic's role as that of the court jester. A review of texts that they produce projects the critic as someone who role is to joke with the audience (which is king ), at the expense of the work of art.
To ensure that the joke has a punch line, it is sometimes required to sacrifice the work itself (such as a new album ), or the artist, or supporting cast. Such critics who fashion themselves as court jesters are not hard to identify - their texts are witty and have the goal of making the audience laugh; their criticism trashes the work of art, and purchases for the jester another day of grace in the king's court.
The third type of criticism, and the most influential critic, is public opinion. The Internet and smartphones enable the audience to express its opinion; and others can peruse the array of views regarding a work of art that are posted on line.
In some contexts, this form of criticism has tangible advantages. The views of Internet users are extremely significant, for instance, when a person chooses a hotel in an unfamiliar country.
Yet there are other fields, ones in which the loss of the critic's role means the loss of treasure troves of knowledge. This is a real loss, and there might be no stopping it from continuing. The critic will likely soon go the way of the watchmaker, the mailman and the journalist - all four will stand and wave, as history passes them by.
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