Many races, religions, languages and cultures have vanished without a trace -- vanished because there were no historians and biologists. Just so a mass of lives and works of art is vanishing before our eyes, owing to the complete absence of criticism. People may say there is nothing for our critics to do, that all our contemporary works are meaningless and inferior. But that is a narrow view. Life must be observed not only on the plus side, but also on the minus. The conviction in itself that the eighties have not produced a single worthwhile writer may serve as material for five volumes...
-- Anton Chekhov
By virtue of his independence, the reviewer's position is at once too modest and too powerful. His position signifies, in effect, that he writes only as a representative member of the audience; he states his reaction without ties, prejudice, or special authority beyond whatever competence the reader may find in him. The reviewer always implies that he stands for nothing, that he is not responsible to anyone, that he writes as he pleases. Thus he is an honest, even unpretentious man. It is precisely in his independence, humility, and freedom that the reviewer's evil lurks. For he cannot be held to anything, he represents nothing definite, he has no intellectual identity; his mind is a private affair, and his change of mind may be an accident.
When Bernard Shaw wrote about a play, we cannot be sure he was fair or right, but what he demanded of the theatre and its artists and why he wanted these things was always made entirely clear. He was committed, not "independent." He preferred a bad play by Ibsen to the best of Pinero, and the substance of his review was not to assert this, but to make his readers understand the reason...
Unlike other people, our reviewers are powerful because they believe in nothing.
-- Harold Clurman
A good critic -- we cannot help seeing when we look back at any other age -- is a much rarer thing than a good poet or a good novelist. A critic is half writer, half reader: just as the vices of men and horses meet in centaurs, the weaknesses of readers and writers meet in critics. Unless you are one critic in a hundred thousand, the future will quote you only as an example of the normal error of the past...Critics are discarded like calendars.
-- Randall Jarrell
Criticism can indeed be something of an art, standing in relation to the art that is its subject as that art stands in relation to its own material (which used to be called "nature" but is less readily identifiable now). All it takes is what any serious artistic endeavor takes: someone's whole self, everything he or she has got, given in ardent identification with the endeavor's form and technique. "Form is everything," as Wilde noted, and "technique is really personality." Criticism is spiritual autobiography coincident with the life it records: memory of the present.
-- Peter Schjeldahl
Much of contemporary criticism grazes aimlessly, if pleasurably, through the pastures of intellectual history and leaves it to the reader to synthesize this abundance, or, better yet, to give up his or her usual habits of making sense in favor of a less coherent but more fertile openness of mind and feeling.
-- Edmund White