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A critic is anyone who expresses a value judgment. Informally, criticism is a common aspect of all human expression and need not necessarily imply skilled or accurate expressions of judgment. Critical judgments, good or bad, may be positive (in praise of an object of attention), negative (in dispraise), or balanced (weighing a combination of factors both for and against). Since all criticism must be regarded as having a purpose, a critic may also be definable by his or her specific motivation. At its simplest, and for whatever reason, a critic may have either constructive or destructive intent.
Formally, the word is applied to persons who are publicly accepted in a recognised capacity, such as professional employment, graduation from a course of study, etc., to give critical commentaries in one or any of a number of specific fields of public or private achievement or endeavour. Such domains most commonly include the arts, performance and public service (such as catering) but may extend more widely to pronouncements on moral character, group behaviour, or any activity involving repute in public life, including war, broadcasting, academia, politics, science, etc. Critical judgments in this sense must always entail some degree of subjectivity and are themselves subject to critical analysis.
Particularly in the domains of the arts and culture, where judgments can be at their most subjective, a formally accepted critic can play a powerful role as a public arbiter of taste or opinion and can occasionally play a more or less defining role in cultural history. Also, because formal criticism is necessarily selective, the role of the formal critic generally intersects with issues of censorship and the construction or denial of canonical reputation in cultures. But criticism need not merely be perceived as a matter of building up or destroying reputations. Good peer-group criticism is an important part of developing or maintaining excellent standards of achievement in any art or discipline, whether at the level of apprenticeship or ongoing practise. The proliferation of online websites setting themselves up as critics of the Arts is allegedly causing concern, particularly at events such as the Edinburgh Fringe festival, where reviewers are often untrained, have no visible code of conduct, and are possibly using the opportunity to practice writing rather than fulfil a morally acceptable and informative role.
The critic is considered to be the dialectic of genius. This insight was formulated early by Gotthold Ephraim Lessing as "not every critic is a genius, but every genius is born a critic...genius has the proof of all rules within itself." Kant scholar Jane Kneller has read this to indicate that, as opposed to the externally oriented and culturally dependent critic, "genius demonstrates its autonomy not by ignoring all rules, but by deriving the rules from itself".
The word critic comes from Greek κριτικός (kritikós), "able to discern", which is a Greek derivation from the word κριτής (krités), meaning a person who offers reasoned judgment or analysis, value judgment, interpretation, or observation.