...criticism remains an indispensable activity. The making of art — popular or fine, abstruse or accessible, sacred or profane — is one of the glories of our species. We are uniquely endowed with the capacity to fashion representations of the world and our experience in it, to tell stories and draw pictures, to organize sound into music and movement into dance. Just as miraculously, we have the ability, even the obligation, to judge what we have made, to argue about why we are moved, mystified, delighted or bored by any of it. At least potentially, we are all artists. And because we have the ability to recognize and respond to the creativity of others, we are all, at least potentially, critics, too.
...It’s the mission of art to free our minds, and the task of criticism to figure out what to do with that freedom. That everyone is a critic means that we are each capable of thinking against our own prejudices, of balancing skepticism with open-mindedness, of sharpening our dulled and glutted senses and battling the intellectual inertia that surrounds us. We need to put our remarkable minds to use and to pay our own experience the honor of taking it seriously.
The real culture war (the one that never ends) is between the human intellect and its equally human enemies: sloth, cliché, pretension, cant. Between creativity and conformity, between the comforts of the familiar and the shock of the new. To be a critic is to be a soldier in this fight, a defender of the life of art and a champion of the art of living.
It’s not just a job, in other words.