The critical conversation, continued
I'll pick up where Joe and commenters left off yesterday. And heck, I'll even swipe Joe's numbered format for this week's post:
1. I thought it was intriguing that Joe used a sports-vs.-arts-coverage comparison in his first point (sports writing as a type of reviewing). While I think there's truth in these similarities, there's also a gaping difference that often works to the disadvantage of the arts writer. Namely, arts writers are often expected to make people care about / like / understand the arts in a way that would never be expected of sportswriters.
Simply put, sports pages are read by sports fans. These people will know if the sportswriter gets some bit of team history or stats wrong. They already know the rules of baseball or football. The sportswriter can assume the sports reader has a base of knowledge, otherwise he or she wouldn't be reading the sports pages.
Arts writers, on the other hand, are expected to do that difficult dance of making things accessible to the general reader with no specialized background, but also hold the interest of those who do know something about dance, visual art, theater, what-have-you. It's a tough trick to provide background and still have space for original, critical analysis in a review. While there are times when I feel I've pulled it off, there are plenty of times when, looking back, I'm disappointed at how much space I wasted on sketching out a play's plot, for example.
2. Habeas (in yesterday's comments) make some great points. I think what I've written in #1 is connected to what habeas says. While knowing decades' worth of arcane team trivia is an asset for a sportswriter, having in-depth knowledge in a particular arts discipline is sometimes treated as a liability (not at the paper I freelance for, fortunately). Frankly, habeas, your level of knowledge probably scares some potential employers off. They worry, perhaps, that you won't be able to write in this magically "accessible" style (that's an unfounded fear since the clips you already have show whether you can do it or not).
There was some provocative discussion along these lines a few years back in ArtsJournal, on a page I've long had bookmarked since there was so much good stuff. Here's a tidbit from a letter by Colin Eatock dated May 2002 that hits it on the head:
"[An editor under discussion] appears to distrust expertise--at least in the arts. Presumably he believes that a sports writer should know all about the nickel defense and the three-deep zone, whatever on Earth they are. But arts writers are suspect if they know more than the average reader--or perhaps more than their editors...[A particular editor's] idea of the perfect arts journalist seems to be someone who approaches theatre, jazz or visual art with equal indifference, and not too much book-learnin'."
3. As for habeas' point about "creating more pulpits and opening up the field": I also agree. This is why I think freelancers can be so crucial; they can be a way for papers without a staff writer competent to cover a certain area to access that knowledge (assuming they have a budget for freelancers). Of course, this is still unsatisfying for the freelancer who would love a full-time position--and I don't know what the answer to that is. Perhaps one of my co-bloggers can take that question up; as I write this, I'm too tired to!
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