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March 6, 2007

Criticism as ethnography

John Stoehr

A concept that never really got fleshed out, but that has no less left an impression on me from the 2005 NEA Arts Journalism Institute in Classical Music was that of ethnography.

Why not, as a critic of classical music, write not about the concert but the people attending the concert? Why not democratize the experience, diversify the voices of assessment and enrich the chatter?

That's what Jeffrey Day did the other day when he wrote this article for The State newspaper in Columbia, S.C.

Day, the arts writer for the newspaper, demontrates a kind of cultural journalism that I'm currently obsessed with -- in which the dominant paradigm is inquiry, not evaluation, though it may be an inquiry that leads to evaluation.

By asking what's important to people about the arts, the cultural journalist is far better able to know how to relate what is critical to his readers.

A more sophisticated form of Day's article might be inviting three or four distinct personalities to a play or art exhibit, taking them to coffee and recording a discussion of the experience for print, audio or webcast.

The critic in this case acts more as moderator than critic, but isn't our goal in telling people what we think to shape and influence discussion? Like a moderator?

Posted by John Stoehr at March 6, 2007 1:31 AM

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