Everyone’s a Critic: Writing as Reflex

The “death” of criticism has been endlessly theorized in essays, conferences, and books since at least the 1990s. Panel discussions ask existential questions like “Is criticism still relevant?,” “Has the curator replaced the critic?,” or “Is the collector the new critic?” A controversial collection of essays entitled The Crisis of Criticism asked, among other queries, whether a review was best educational—picking the best things to see and do as a kind of educational service—or evaluative—focusing on the good and the bad, and willing to go the mile in expressing why something isn’t working, and why.

In sum, most of these analyses point to the continued hyper-commercialization of art as the death knell for critical discourse. Criticism can seem more valuable as a CV entry or promotional tool than something that can effect real change or sway opinion—or better, avoid capitalist instrumentalism by refusing to play nice, regurgitate press releases, or fear offending peers or colleagues.

Everyone’s a Critic seeks, in the words of Raphael Rubenstein, to foster a writing that “take[s] judgment-making very seriously” through a variety of hands-on means. We will read short case studies of “successful” and “unsuccessful,” positive and negative, reviews, as well as dig-in with writing reviews for both “amateur” formats like Yelp and Tumblr and more “professional” variants, such as traditional capsule and long-form magazine reviews—visiting critics will lend a hand workshopping these activities. Through these exercises, not only will the writing muscle be flexed, but criteria for judgment-making will also be questioned: what does it mean to know “enough” about what you’re writing about? To what degree does academic training and education play a part in critical evaluation? And what is the role of theory in all of this? The end-goal of this class is to look at criticality critically, and to do it in real-time, unencumbered by the need to sound smart (just be smart), be polite, or follow the rules.