In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new. The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations. The new needs friends.
(Last emphasis mine.)
The new needs friends because, to whip out a line I'm fond of, the genuinely new thing is a terrible pain in the ass. It needs friends because by itself, on its own, it will almost certainly end up out in the street. But how you're a friend to the new makes all the difference.
Dzogchen Ponlop's Rebel Buddha has a chapter devoted to the idea of what a spiritual teacher is. The original term Ponlop reaches back to means something closer to "spiritual friend" — not someone up on a pedestal, but a peer who simply has a little more experience with this particular thing than you do. Friends share what they know without being judgmental, and without trying to position themselves as "masters".
A spiritual friend to the new would not just be an advocate for it or an evangelist, but someone who does their best to help the new mature, to keep it honest. Jonas Mekas tried to fulfill this role for the avant-garde cinema world, to keep its works from just becoming lower-budgeted versions of the same things anyone could see anywhere else (and thus inferior, since some things only work when you have the money to throw at them anyway). And Mekas, like Truffaut, was part of the very scene he talked about. Both of them knew you could only do so much for the state of the movies by talking about them. At some point, if you could, you picked up a camera yourself, and made the movies you wanted to see.
The problem is that not every creator is also an adept critic, or vice versa. Critics have trouble creating things when they get choked up second-guessing how to defeat the very criticism they might dole out themselves. And creators are often bad at criticizing work because their attitudes towards a work as a consumer is very different from their attitude towards it as a creator. (Neil Gaiman is a fine author, but I trust his taste in other peoples' work about as far as I can throw it when it's tied to a piano.) But I remain convinced both of those things can be honed with time; we just don't have good environments or mechanisms to do it, and so the folks who straddle the divide tend to appear spontaneously.
Still, back to my original point: The new needs friends, not evangelists or apologists. It needs people who will help it grow, but also keep it from straying off and getting run over in traffic. Very little of this exists now. How do we create it? That's your homework assignment.
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