Joining the Debate: Do we need professional critics?

Recently, the New York Times launched a discussion thread in the Opinion page section Room for Debate questioning whether or not we need professional critics. They solicited responses from eight practitioners in the field to weigh in with thoughts, including Meagan Bruskewicz, who shared with the DCA a few weeks ago about her decision to pursue a PhD in dance history.

The discussion was kicked off with the following prompt:

Everyone’s a critic.

Blogs and social media have empowered anyone with an Internet connection to weigh in on the movie or book du jour. This has had a profound effect on the newspaper industry, which continues to shed full-time critics, while the ones who stay enthusiastically defend their craft.

Is professional criticism still important? Can professional criticism stay relevant when media companies’ budgets are tight and the media landscape is overflowing with opinions?

Bruskewicz, in her response, wrote:  “I think there is room for anyone to add his or her voice to the discourse… Yet I feel the distinction between amateurs and professionals should remain and still does — even a cacophony of emerging voices cannot take away from the authority of well-established professional critics and renowned publications.”

To read all of the responses, from other critics, visual artists, a performer, a novelist, and a filmmaker, visit Room for Debate here.

Anton Ego, the critic of Pixar's "Ratatouille"

DCA Board Member Brian Schaefer responded to the conversation on his blog, My Two Left Feet, and finds an unlikely muse in the character of Anton Ego, the critic in Pixar’s brilliant animated feature “Ratatouille,” who he believes offers a model for broadening the conversation and reclaiming the positive contributions of criticism:

“Ratatouille presented what I consider the best contemporary representation of criticism in popular culture in the way it deals with the transformation of the critic Anton Ego and the way it celebrates the idea that “everyone can cook” or, in this case, that “everyone can be a critic.”  That doesn’t mean they are cooks or critics, it means they have the potential to be and our job as those who value and practice criticism today is not to protect it but to share it.”

So what do you think?  Do we still need professional critics or will a more democratic arena of voices serve dance just as well, and perhaps better in some ways?  Share your opinions with us.

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