The Greatest, Whatever, Uh-huh

What is it with critics pronouncing this or that artist the “greatest” of a generation? Laziness, that’s what, writes Peter Plagens. “A critic’s pronouncing somebody ‘the greatest/most-important sculptor/bassoonist/director/novelist/cheesemaker/whatever of his generation’ says much more about the critic than the anointed artist. It says that the critic has reached a state of fatigue and impatience with taking forward-looking, right-now judgmental chances on quirky 25-year-olds who probably won’t pan out over the long haul, making the critic look misguided. It says that the critic is more comfortable looking backward. It says the critic has reached a plateau of self-importance on which he wants to go around conferring cultural knighthoods on artist-commoners who’ve managed to rise above their making-clever-baubles-for-the-rich stations to become, almost, big thinkers. And it says that the critic wants to get the authoritative-sounding but actually sonorously empty words ‘greatest’ and ‘generation’ together in the same sentence.”