THE BLOG

The Need for Arts Journalists

03/31/2014 08:34 am ET | Updated May 31, 2014

I have written before about the gradual decline in the amount of serious arts criticism. Too many newspapers are saving money by eliminating their arts coverage or by reducing the amount of coverage in favor of popular arts coverage.

When I wrote about this last time I was bombarded by criticism for suggesting that amateur, online criticism, often anonymous, was not as valuable for the field as criticism by professional journalists with a strong knowledge and background in the art form they cover.

Let me be clear: I think it is great that everyone has a chance to express their viewpoint on the quality of a production and the offerings of an arts institution.

And I have read many remarkable critiques on-line and been amazed at the erudition of people who are not paid for this expertise but have earned it the hard way: by attending many operas, plays or ballet performances, reading arts history, and building a great base of knowledge.

But I still mourn serious arts criticism by informed, named critics. I say this as someone who has received his fair share of criticism. I have not always agreed with the critics, nor do I believe they always understand the constraints facing arts institutions when conceiving, developing, producing and marketing arts projects. But I am glad they are there, watching, listening, critiquing and expounding.

Arts journalists keep those of us who run arts organizations honest. They question us when they believe our offerings are too timid, too easy, too glib. They don't let us take the easy way out -- repeating a production because it was cheap to do so, engaging a performer for their fame rather than for their ability to inhabit a role, creating productions that sound good rather than are good.

Every time I receive a bad review I learn from it. I may not agree with the critic but, at least, I am forced to evaluate why I liked the production more than they did. And, surprisingly, I find that my productions receive compliments I feel are unwarranted almost as often as I receive undue criticism. Many critics may not believe this but arts managers are some of their own worst critics. I have gone to bed weeping about a failed production only to read a glowing review in the newspaper the next day.

And, truth be told, while I feel a bit better for a day, I ultimately get more depressed by a good review I did not deserve. I feel like I did when I got a good grade on a test I had not prepared for; like I got away with something and will be found out in the end.

But as I conclude my arts management career I can honestly say that, on balance, after one weeds out the few reviews that caused outrage and hurt, I am so glad that I had critics who nudged, cajoled and pressured me for the past 30 years. I fear for an arts ecology without them.