I studied writing at an art school, and as a writer what strikes me most about Roger Ebert's untimely death to cancer is that he was something of a dying breed: the art critic. In a decade where the arts pages are becoming a thing of the past in lieu of budget cuts and the rise of the Internet, I question if any critic will ever again rise to his stature.
My choice to study at the Savannah College of Art and Design was closely tied to my desire to write about the arts. This dream gradually shifted over the years, as I realized that would make me essentially unemployable unless I worked for the handful of newspapers that still employ full-time reviewers, mega-names like the Chicago-Sun Times and LA Weekly.
As many young writers know, while print is struggling, there is a real "in" through the web. But as empowering as blogs and social media are for entry-level writers, there is something to be said for the Eberts of the past -- and that something is a nod toward quality. Good reviews aren't about bland summary, but critical interpretation and evaluation. Good reviews don't remind (or foretell) us what the film is about, but make us think again: "Oh, yes, that's exactly why that scene was so poignant." Or, "Why yes, that's exactly what this film is trying to tell us about today's social issues." We may not be able to articulate it ourselves as we're dumping our tubs of popcorn in the trash on our way out of the theater, but that's why Ebert is there -- to allow us to take the moviegoer experience to the next level. To go beyond the sheer entertainment value.
That's why I mourn his loss.
I loved living in Savannah because it is a city filled by creative types. It's a place where people come to be inspired. While I am discouraged by Ebert's death, I hope my lasting note for those of us out there that create is not: "Whelp, we'll never be him." Media today may encourage shorter, less developed prose, but it's not void of promise.
We do not need to be Gene Siskel, Richard Roeper or Roger Ebert to say meaningful things about art and the world around us. Maybe there will never again be a Roger Ebert, but there can be intelligent discussions, even on Wordpress, Tumblr, Facebook or, dare I say, Twitter.
I just urge artists that in lieu of instant publication, we don't forget why we got into art to begin with: to wonder. We may never be given 800 words to discuss a movie, but there are brilliant things being done with the integration of multimedia, things like galleries, infographics and most notably in reviews, video. There are ways to be meaningful online -- it's our job in this generation to seek out those ways.
Roger Ebert will be missed. He was certainly the voice of film for the last generation. It's time new media writers and artists find our own voice.
Susan Kemp graduated from SCAD with a BFA in writing in 2012. She now works at Oxmoor House in Birmingham, Ala.