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May 15, 2007

Thin-skinnedness, a reaction

Jennifer A. Smith


Wow, John. That letter is a doozy. Since you responded to something I wrote last week, I thought I'd use your post as a point of departure for mine this week.


Living hundreds of miles away from you, I have no firsthand knowledge of Savannah's theater scene, but so many things come to mind as I read this angry, impassioned letter. Perhaps what strikes me most is the underlying notion that you, as an arts writer, must somehow be a booster ("...if the local press presented us in a more... supportive light while letting the public judge the work for themselves"). While writers should never be vicious, we are in the business of journalism, not public relations. Telling you to "buy a ticket and ride the ride" also bothers me. Are you supposed to be a passive observer who just shuts up and lets an experience wash over you, with no right to your own reaction?


Decent, thoughtful critics, even when they're negative, do care about the cultural life of the community. No one I know relishes writing a harsh review. And even when you hope your words may spark local discussion, your intentions as a writer can be misconstrued. I know that you, and all of us, want the arts to be a vital part of our communities, something that people show up for and care about as passionately as people care about sports in this country.


I guess the question left for all of us is, how can we write thoughtfully and constructively about our local cultural scenes without making people feel attacked? And is there really anything we can do when people feel attacked even when there is no basis for it? I think most of us consider ourselves a part of our local cultures, not imperious outsiders, but it is clear the arts writer's role is not always welcomed.

Posted by Jennifer A. Smith at May 15, 2007 12:40 PM

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