[Note: This post has been updated (2) as of 11:58 AM Eastern on 7 Jul. See below.]
In a piece for the Financial Times titled, "Critics In A Hostile World", veteran Pulitzer Prize winning classical music critic, Martin Bernheimer, bemoans what looks to him like the imminent extinction of the professional arts critic.
These are hard times for journalism in America. Newspapers are at best shrinking, at worst folding. Fewer than 10 cities still support more than a single daily. Writers face buy-outs, lay-offs or firing. The papers that survive are making do with fewer employees, fewer pages, fewer articles and fewer opinion pieces. Critics are looking more and more like dodos.
And the proximate cause of this distressing trend?
A primary cause of our imminent extinction must be the Internet. An impatient generation is succumbing to the free and easy lure of computer enlightenment. Sure, not all those who cover the arts in old-fashioned print are paragons — still, most do have sufficient education and/or experience to justify their views. On the Web, anyone can impersonate an expert. Anyone can blog. Credentials don’t count. All views are equal. Some sort of criticism may survive the American media revolution, but professional criticism may not.
Essentially, our civilisation is tilting towards anti-authoritarian contests. Audiences, not judges, select winners. Call it the American Idolisation of culture. On TV, contestants get voted off without explanation. Quality is measured by thumbs, up or down. Scholarly analyses have turned into irrelevant extravagances for snobs.
As constant readers of Sounds & Fury are aware, Mr. Bernheimer is one of a handful of professional classical music critics whose writings we regularly single out for praise, and we find ourself in full agreement with much of what he has to say above. But his intemperate assessment that, "On the Web, anyone can impersonate an expert. Anyone can blog. Credentials don’t count. All views are equal," is overblown even as rhetoric.
There can be no argument with Mr. Bernheimer's assertion that anyone can blog. Indeed, anyone can. Almost no one, however, can "impersonate an expert" successfully in the arts blogosphere for very long without in some measure actually being one, the blogger's lack of "credentials" notwithstanding. In fact, the imposture will be sniffed out far more quickly, and punished far more decisively in the blogosphere than in the print world.
So much for "All views are equal."
We share Mr. Bernheimer's concern with and his dismay at the seemingly unstoppable rise of the rabid equalitarianism and populism that today so malignantly infects our American cultural life. It's manifest everywhere, and most perniciously in the high arts, a domain in which classical music arguably occupies the highest station. Mr. Bernheimer, however, has misidentified the culprit. The cause of that seemingly unstoppable and alarming rise lies elsewhere and deeper than blogs, bloggers, and the Internet which are merely the most widespread and visible instances of its expression. Where and what that elsewhere may be we, as a non-expert, are incompetent to identify adequately, and so leave its full exposure and suggestions for a means to defeat it to those best qualified to accomplish those urgent tasks.
Update (5:24 PM Eastern on 5 Jul): Lisa Hirsch of Iron Tongue of Midnight has a response of her own to Mr. Bernheimer's article.
Update 2 (11:58 AM Eastern on 7 Jul): James Reel, professional arts journalist and critic for Arizona Public Media, adds his thoughts on the matter on his blog, Cue Sheet.