New York Times’ A.O. Scott Stresses Importance of Critical Thinking

Written by Chaline Lobti

Anthony Oliver Scott, a New York Times journalist and film critic, spoke on the importance of critical thinking in his First Monday address to the Colorado College community at the outset of Block Six. Thanks to websites like Yelp, brain children of the digital-age society no longer have a need for professional critics. Despite the decline, Scott argued that professional criticism is necessary because it promotes critical thinking.

A.O. Scott speaks at First Monday about the pursuit of truth and the importance of criticism. Photos By Daniel SarchÉ

Natalie Sarver ‘19 acknowledges the importance of critical thinking but disagreed with Scott’s argument that the arts should not be politicized. “I don’t understand how art cannot be politicized when political movements have been brought to awareness through art,” said Sarver. “An example being Diego Riviera’s work,” which helped bring about the Mexican Mural Movement. Sarver argues that if public art forms are used to propel a political view, there is no way to avoid it becoming politicized. The opposing viewpoint speaks to Scott’s concession that critics are not always right, and that it is actually beneficial for the critic to be wrong.

One chapter of his book, “Better Living with Criticism,” emphasizes the value of being wrong and explains how to be wrong; That the pursuit of error is ultimately the pursuit of truth. The beginning of the chapter reads, “The rush to be correct, to claim the bragging rights that rightness confers has the effect of turning the pursuit of truth into a gain, in which error, paradoxically enough, is stripped of consequences.” However, accepting one’s mistake can be humanizing. Unfortunately, people often associate criticism with pomposity, compelling them to avoid the educated opinion of critics.

Miriam Sanchez ‘19 had reservations about attending the talk due to the negative connotations she associates with critics. Scott defines professional criticism as how we understand, appreciate, interpret, and evaluate the world around us. He wrote in his book, “Art is important, creativity is also important, and for those reasons, criticism is also important.” Anyone can watch a film or read a book and formulate an opinion; critics are not needed for that part. They can, however, help one to understand the “why” and the “how” behind art, to think about the work more critically and to support opinion with theory.

Scott believes the arrogance often associated with critics comes from their portrayal in popular culture. Think Anton Ego, the famed food critic in “Ratatouille.” Scott argues that, although not all critics are down to earth and open minded, there must be an understanding that the world of critique does not exist to tear apart, but aims to help us grow and appreciate our surroundings through interpretation and evaluation.

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