The role of critics

His similes are terrible, but his points are good…

[T]he art critics and the dramatic critics […] are separated by a great chasm of “culture” and fastidiousness from the people for whom they write. They [look upon] the amusements of the public, not as wine-tasters oversee wine-drinking, or horse-doctors inspect horses—that is, by right of knowing more than most people about something which most people know. Rather they oversee them as teetotalers count the [pubs], or as a giraffe, with lifted head, might oversee a fish-market. This division and disgust is a dangerous attitude, even when it is a right attitude; for there is in all arrogance the beginning of ignorance. […] Obviously the right condition for a healthy community is that the people and the critics should have the same basic joy in beautiful or comic things; but that the people should not know why they feel the joy, while the critics should tell them. […] As men they should laugh or cry at a theatre; and then afterwards, as critics, defend themselves for having done so. They should justify to the public its own feelings in the act of justifying their own. But […] something has gone wrong with this natural relation of the critics to the commonwealth. The writers in question never attempt to explain why humanity likes this or that; generally they get no further than explaining why they do not like it themselves. […] [A] critic, even if he differs from the [general opinion], ought to be able to explain it. That is his business.

— G. K. Chesterton, 1909


%d bloggers like this: