May 16, 2006
Considering the hybridby
So far almost everyone here has dealt in fuzzy generalities instead of talking about specific papers, magazines, or writers. Well, let's begin to change that...
Consider for a moment the hybrid: Part review, part reported piece. In today's New York Times, Alan Riding authors a fine example, an interesting look at Paris' Orangerie.
Daily newspapers almost always shy away from this kind of writing. (Riding and Nicolai Ouroussoff are the only NYT writers who regularly write this way. Sometimes under-appreciated Washington Postie Philip Kennicott does too, but I can't think of many others.) These hybrids are a lot of fun to read, they're thoroughly informative, and they engage readers from multiple angles.
In the last few months I've written two of these pieces for the New York Observer: One on a problematic show of contemporary art from the Islamic world at MoMA, and one on changes at NYC's Guggenheim Museum. They were a joy to write. Judging from the email I received (and from the links and discussion I saw in the blogosphere) I think other people enjoyed reading them too.
One of the best things about this format is that it allows journos/critics to write about the arts within the context of broader human events. That's the context in which art is made, and that is the context in which art is not-often-enough written about.
I'd love to see more of these pieces, especially in Sunday papers which seem made for them. So why do so few daily papers allow/run them?
Posted by at May 16, 2006 7:42 AM
Back in the days when I wrote profiles for the Sunday New York Times and elsewhere, I looked upon the form as a species of criticism, an opportunity to put the artist in a wider perspective. I still think that's the right way to do them.
Posted by: Terry Teachout at May 16, 2006 8:12 AM
I endorse Tyler and Chris's calls for a broader definition of criticism, whether on blogs or in mainstream publications.
I certainly think there's a place for traditional informed criticism of performances. But I also agree with John Cage that more arts journalists should view at least one of their roles as that of the Introducer, whose job it is to give readers the contextual info that will help them understand and appreciate new and unfamiliar works.
That role may be more important than ever these days. With such a vast variety of arts available to our readers now, we can't assume that they share the same base of background knowledge that NY readers had about, say, jazz or classical music in the 1950s, when critics could afford to focus on the nuances of performances. That shift has impelled me to do more introducing, more contextualizing, more storytelling.
Fortunately, new media afford us more room for us to use different approaches when it's appropriate to the subject. For example, I treasure anything Terry Teachout writes, and I love the fact that his blog allows him to do a different kind of writing than his Wall Street Journal and other pieces.
Not that traditional publications don't give us that latitude. In my own occasional freelance arts writing for the WSJ and various magazines over the past decade, I've tried to make those pieces more about reporting and context than pure criticism or even the previews I write in my music column for the local alt weekly.
I prefer to write those explanatory and narrative pieces, perhaps because I come from a literary nonfiction background and consider myself more of a storyteller about the arts than a critic per se, at least in the rather cramped definition applied to that term these days. For awhile, Andante provided such a forum online, and I wish there were more online venues that, unlike blogs, actually paid us to go beyond the typical critic's role.
Posted by: brett at May 16, 2006 5:45 PM
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