In an article of serene unreality, the New York Times music critic Anthony Tommasini responds to comments by a former head of Lincoln Center, accusing him of ignoring financial failure while extolling artistic success.
Tommasini sets out his credo in response to the charge:
His comments got me thinking about whether critics should take financial realities into account in writing about the arts. Should they dig through the details, or imagine what could be?
As I see it, imagination should win out. In-depth coverage of budget battles and managerial incompetence is better left to arts reporters. A critic is empowered to dream, to provoke, to foster excitement. The challenges facing classical music, the performing art most fixated on the standard repertory, demand that critics stand up for principle, even at the risk of seeming bent on a cause or unrealistic.
Read the full article here.
My personal view of this statement is that it is intellectually dishonest and professionally lame.
A critic’s job is to report and engage, not to campaign for a better world. If a critic were to pursue dreams, most review space in the New York Times would be taken up by esoteric productions in lofts and colleges, rather than at the major orchestras and opera houses whose full-page advertisements sustain the newspaper’r culture department and indirectly pay the critic’s salary.
To ignore these priorities is not just myopic. It runs counter to the raw instincts of journalism, which are to be curious about all aspects of any matter which you are reporting or reviewing. A journalist in an opera house needs to be alert to all prevailing circumstances. A pack-horse wears blinkers, not a music critic. Tommasini, in this credo, disables his vocation.
I can readily imagine what his streetwise forbear Harold Schonberg would have made of it.