We are happy to read reviews about the latest film, the most recent production of an opera, or an author’s recently-published novel: reviews telling us if that film, opera or book is good, or ‘worth’ visiting. The passive consumption of critical opinion often absolves us from the need to undergo the artistic experience for ourselves and subsequently, to make up our own minds. If reviews are indifferent or worse, we readily write the work off as not worth our attention even before we’ve seen or heard it.
As consumers of art, we need to be more diligent in our consumption: we need to be eager to visit an exhibition, go to an opera or see a film for ourselves, irrespective (or in spite) of what critics have written. Instead of slavishly trooping out to the cinema or concert-hall if critics exhort us to, or docilely staying at home if they tell us it’s not worth it, we need to be more active in seeing these things for ourselves and forming our own conclusions. Otherwise, we become mindless drones functioning at the behest of a reviewer’s opinions: they are pushing our buttons, controlling what we consume.
Donald Mitchell’s article ‘A State of Emergency’ on critical opinion in the 1960’s, which appears in the anthology of his writings, Cradles of the New, represents a call to arms in reaction to critical opinion: the call still resonates today.