The critiqued, not the critic, should feel embarrassed

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An anecdote from an obituary of art and music critic Hilton Kramer, founder of The New Criterion:

It did not please Hilton Kramer to make enemies. But he knew that the job of a cultural critic was to tell the truth and that the truth is often unpalatable.

He loved telling the story of attending a dinner at the Whitney Museum. He was seated next to the film director Woody Allen, who asked whether he ever felt embarrassed when he met socially artists whom he had criticized. No, Kramer replied, they're they ones who made the bad art: I just described it. Mr. Allen, he recalled, lapsed into gloomy silence. It was only on his way home that Kramer recalled writing a highly critical piece about "The Front," a P.C. movie about the Hollywood blacklist in which Mr. Allen acted. That anecdote encapsulates something essential about Kramer's practice as a critic.

I have at times felt sheepish to be in the presence of politicians whose decisions I have criticized. Henceforth, I'll follow Mr. Kramer's example. Me, embarrassed? Pal, you're the one who made the bad policy. I just wrote about it.

Hat tip for a version of this anecdote to Meghan Cox Gurdon, writing critically in Imprimis about today's lurid literature targeting older children: The Case for Good Taste in Children's Books, a must-read for parents and other teachers of the older children that publishers label "young adults."

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on August 25, 2013 4:03 PM.

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