Art critics, you are wanted. But first, you must be an expert.
It’s the typical scene at nearly every fashion show over the past few years, according to fashion event producer, Susan Sidor. The venue is lightly lit with a long, sterile runway dividing the spectators as Sidor mingles with her colleagues and other elite within the industry. However, distracted by the flashing lights of cell phones and cameras, she could not help but notice the onslaught of bloggers sitting front row in a venue crowded with people searching for “swag bags”, some dressed as if it were Halloween and even more taking pictures with celebrities in attendance. She then posed the question, “Who is the expert critic?”, in a time in which she believes criticism is more important now than ever.
“Not everyone is a seasoned critic,” Sidor said. “There is a fine line between who you listen to and who you trust.”
So, who is that expert critic and how does one acquire that title?
Like many disciplines, fashion has gone through a number of changes within the last few decades with the uprising of social media and online platforms that serve as free and public sites for conversations to transpire. The most recognizable transformation, therefore, has been the declining number of expert critics, as critiques are often blurred with mere opinion.
Much of this comes with the rise of bloggers, a sector of the industry that Sidor prides herself in being open to experience the waves they are making within the fashion realm. As the voice behind the large screen at a recent video conference with Rutgers’ students, she recalled sitting in the lobby of fashion show venues and talking with guests who lined up early, patiently waiting the debut collections.
“It was very enlightening for me. Many were bloggers who had a certain level of intention of getting into the fashion industry,” Sidor said. “This was their easiest way in. But, you have to have passion and truly believe in the art to make it. It’s not just for the frivolity. It’s a business.”
Nor is artistic criticism just about passion, according to John Keller, actor and director of education for the artist collaborative, CoLAB, a hyperlocal, grassroots organization in New Brunswick, New Jersey.
Instead, the role of the expert critic is to be a source, who is knowledgeable about the art form in a way that can provide an informed and intelligent critique on the quality of the art.
In other words, one must know what they’re actually talking about, as that is what separates the expert critic from the blogger.
“As an artist you are willing to accept critique from someone who is skilled and seasoned,” Keller said. “There is nothing worse than feeling like you were critiqued by someone who doesn’t have the knowledge to critique you.”
But why does expert criticism remain so valued?
For larger-scaled production companies and theaters like the State Theatre New Jersey and “10 Hairy Legs,” a similar role of the critic remains true. However, in today’s day and age, such sources are so far and few, especially in theatre.
10 Hairy Legs
According to Betsy Sobo, the executive director of the dance company “10 Hairy Legs,” and Kelly Blithe, the marketing manager for the State Theatre, the rarity of informed reviews increases their demand.
“Reviews are very important for us,” Blithe said. “We receive so few nowadays that when we do get a review, we try to get as much positive reinforcement out there as we can.”
Sobo too argreed, as the criticism climate is shrinking with traditional print publications reducing their number of critics for a number of disciplines. The New York Magazine and the New Yorker, for instance, no longer have theatre critics.
Therefore, as an artistic organization, which produces live performances, it is imperative to hear what someone has to say about your work not only for the future of the company but to further understand what they do, why they do it and why the art is so relevant as well.
The same can be said for the art of music, in which “music reviews” have largely transformed into anything but reviews of the actual music. Instead, some function as mere summaries and others focus on the entertainment and gossip wave that has swept over the entire industry.
For emcee and hip hop wordsmith, Eloh Kush, this is especially true.
“Criticism these days is rare for a person like myself,” Kush said. “I often wonder if the criticism is genuine. Is it coming from a true critic or another artist who thinks you are taking their spotlight right now?”
Kush relies heavily on bloggers for promotion as they are increasingly taking over for more traditional radio interviews, especially in the entertainment world. For the emcee, the beauty of blogs is that each blogger has a different audience that artists are able to capitalize on. It’s just a matter of finding which one fits best with their work, according to Kush.
However, despite the diversity among each producer and artist, a similar sentiment can be found within each artistic discipline.
“Criticism is valuable whether it’s good or bad [positive or negative], so long as it’s in service of the art form,” said Betsy. “Our goal is to take people on a journey. We want to know how it moved you and how you felt.”
Art critics, start taking notes.