The critical conversation
In the past week several Flyover posts have been focused on the question of reader / critic dialogue. Jen has bemoaned how few readers write letters to the editor about arts coverage, and how this usually gives the appearance (at least to our editors) that arts don't matter as much as politics or other "harder" news topics; in the bigger picture, this lack of feedback basically means that the public discussion of local arts tends to fizzle at the proverbial starting line.
John made an interesting argument that maybe newspapers need more reviews instead of fewer, as is the trend.
I have a few random notes I'd like to add to this conversation.
1. John talked about that all-too-common attitude from editors: "If the show happens only once, what is the point of a review?" I've heard this one myself before, though thankfully not from the editors at my current employer. I always scratch my head at this one, since it usually comes from an editor who is pouring plenty of resources into daily local sports coverage.
What is a recap of last night's high school basketball game, if not -- in essence -- a review? Oh, sure, it has lots of numbers and statistics and some quotes from the coach, which might make it seem more objective. But the best game recaps -- the ones that editors at major dailies pay big bucks for -- turn those numbers into high drama. They offer analysis of how this one game fits into the bigger picture for the teams in question. They focus on the turning points -- the dramatic twists, if you will -- when one team pulled itself together and "went on a run." They talk about the crowd reaction.
And, importantly, they answer the editor's question implicitly, by saying, "this was an important event in our community, and as the newspaper of record in our community, we're telling you what happened."
This defense can go on ad nauseum, using every other activity of any responsible newsroom as a reference point. Why write a story about what happened at last night's city council meeting? After all, it too "only happened once." Why recount the sordid timeline of a murder that happened last night? Spectators can't gather to watch that happen again, either.
Newspapers exist to document the things that happen in our communities, and how those things spin together into a community's sense of self and trajectory of advancement. And sometimes, the most important thing that happened yesterday wasn't a murder, or a football game, or a lawsuit filed against the state. It was a concert.
2. I don't want to belabor this point, but in the discussion of last week's posts, the point was made that there aren't many great performances in small towns. This is true, but it must be taken in the proper context: There usually aren't many performances, period. In my experience in big cites and small, the ratio of great performances to .... just performances .... is usually about the same where-ever you go. The fact that there's always something great to write about in the New York Times is, as much as anything, simply a reflection of the fact that there is SO much going on in New York at any given time.
3. Finally, another point I don't want to belabor: One problem that plagues small-town arts criticism today is that there are only so many educated and thoughtful critics in the country, and they tend not to be evenly spread around the country. More often, you'll find that the person who is conscripted to write a review of last night's symphony concert has no background in classical music -- even if she's the paper's arts reporter.
I'll hold myself up as a shining example: I am a trained classical percussionist who worked his way into journalism. I am now the sole arts reporter AND critic at my newspaper. If someone is going to critique a show at the Missoula Art Museum, or a production at Montana Repertory Theater, or a program by Headwaters Dance Company, I'm probably the man for the job. Am I qualified to give a learned opinion? Usually not. I can only hope that people will credit me for having my heart in the right place, my head deeply in my task, and my homework done adequately, on short notice.
So here's my radical thought for the day: Maybe the problem we should be discussing is how few critics deserve the pulpit they've been given, and what we ('we' as in, those of us who know better than to think we really deserve to be the only voice in town opining about arts occurrences) can do to turn that pulpit into a switchboard. Last week's discussion sketched the broad issues of blogs versus print and how editors devote resources to each; that discussion deserves fleshing out.
Bloggers We Love
Bridgette Redman and Lansing Theater
Drew McManus' "Neo Classical" at the Partial Observer
Marc Moss (Missoula, MT artist)
Mary Louise Schumacher's "Art City"
Other Great Sites
American Composers Orchestra
Arts & Letters Daily
Center for Arts and Culture
Cultural Policy and the Arts National Data Archive
National Arts Journalism Program
NEA Arts Journalism Institute for Dance Criticism
NEA Arts Journalism Institute in Classical Music and Opera
NEA Arts Journalism Institute in Theater & Musical Theater
New Music Box: American Music Center
USC Annenberg/Getty Arts Journalism Program
AJ BlogsAJBlogCentral | rss
Terry Teachout on the arts in New York City
Andrew Taylor on the business of arts & culture
rock culture approximately
Laura Collins-Hughes on arts, culture and coverage
Richard Kessler on arts education
Douglas McLennan's blog
Dalouge Smith advocates for the Arts
Art from the American Outback
For immediate release: the arts are marketable
No genre is the new genre
David Jays on theatre and dance
Paul Levy measures the Angles
Judith H. Dobrzynski on Culture
John Rockwell on the arts
Jan Herman - arts, media & culture with 'tude
Apollinaire Scherr talks about dance
Tobi Tobias on dance et al...
Howard Mandel's freelance Urban Improvisation
Focus on New Orleans. Jazz and Other Sounds
Doug Ramsey on Jazz and other matters...
Jeff Weinstein's Cultural Mixology
Martha Bayles on Film...
Fresh ideas on building arts communities
Greg Sandow performs a book-in-progress
Exploring Orchestras w/ Henry Fogel
Harvey Sachs on music, and various digressions
Bruce Brubaker on all things Piano
Kyle Gann on music after the fact
Greg Sandow on the future of Classical Music
Norman Lebrecht on Shifting Sound Worlds
Jerome Weeks on Books
Scott McLemee on books, ideas & trash-culture ephemera
Wendy Rosenfield: covering drama, onstage and off
Chloe Veltman on how culture will save the world
Public Art, Public Space
Regina Hackett takes her Art To Go
John Perreault's art diary
Lee Rosenbaum's Cultural Commentary
Tyler Green's modern & contemporary art blog