What Role For The Critic?

I get a lot of stuff to review — that’s why I built this blog.  Over the past few years, I’ve gotten literally thousands of dollars worth of stuff to write reviews of — including a wireless printer and a bluetooth iPod cradle/transmitter.  I consider myself a critic.

So what’s the purpose of being a critic?  That’s the question I asked myself as I read Scott Kurtz’ latest blog piece.  Specifically, this statement:

It’s a notion I’m seeing pop up more and more in the blogosphere. The concept that the critic, or reviewer, plays as important a part in the creation of the work he’s critiquing as the artist himself.

I’ve seen that attitude before. I’ve seen people complain about something, and then become incredibly upset that the author/artist/whatever didn’t change it simply based on their say so. Of course, I’ve also had some incredibly upset editors who couldn’t believe I didn’t write a glowing review of their book.

I happen to agree with what Scott’s trying to say — the critic is not a part of the creative process. The critic has no real part in the creation of the work. By the time we get that work, the creative part is over — even if we’re given an ARC, all that’s normally left to do is to edit for grammar and spelling, etc. and print the thing. I’ve been part of the birth of a book. I was asked to review the proposal, and then I got PDF files of each chapter as they were written to review and critique. That’s something totally different, and I really didn’t consider myself a critic at that point; I felt like I was part of the editorial team (and I got paid for it, too). I’m actually really looking forward to that book coming out, even if I don’t get a review copy.

My point is, the critics aren’t there to serve the artist. We’re there to serve the consumer.

Ponder that for a moment.  Reviewers are there for the consumer.  Our job is to tell you, the buying public, what we think of whatever we’re reviewing.  If we think it stinks, we tell you it stinks — not because we want the artist to change it, but because we want you to know it stinks so you don’t waste your money on it.  And if you DO waste your money on it anyway, then you can’t very well blame us, can you?

Having said that, reviewers provide a service to the artist.  If an author has reviews that consistently point out some flaw in his creation, he’d be well advised to see if that’s really what he wants to do.  If a reviewer points out some inconsistency, then he needs to look into rectifying that.  But the burden is on the artist.

If reviewers notice that a writer can’t keep track of the name of one of his main characters throughout the series of novels, then there’s a problem (and the writer needs to fire his proofers).  There’s the service.  But if we don’t like the direction his books are going, and complain, he is under no obligation whatsoever to actually change things.  Look at the big upset over the last Twilight book if you want an example of a popular author making an unpopular decision with popular characters.

Writers, musicians, actors, artists — they all have to deal with critics and reviewers.  They need to hear what we’re saying, but they’re under absollutely no obligation to actually listen to us.  We need to get over ourselves if we think that they do.

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