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Visual Art News - Criticism Archive



February 14, 2007

"Critiquing the Critics"

John Stoehr

Curt Holman, a 2005 fellow of the NEA Arts Journalism Institute at the University of Southern California and writer for Creative Loafing in Atlanta, has thoughtfully pointed out a cover story, published in Time Out New York in December, that turns the tables on Big Apple critics. Anyone who reads Art.Rox ought to check it out. The book critics section is particularly interesting.

What's also interesting is the thinking expressed in the introduction. Writer Nathan Huang cleverly notes that critics give readers a lot to talk about, even if readers have no intention of experiencing the theater, concert or performance in question. One purpose of criticism, in other words, is providing readers with information with which to take action. But isn't another purpose to contribute to the ongoing dialogue of a community?

As Huang writes: "We live in a city that churns out massive amounts of art and entertainment, then proceeds to talk about it endlessly. At times it doesn't even matter if you haven't seen, read or heard something, as long as you can gab about it--and our local critics provide the handiest cheat sheets."

Even if a city doesn't churn out as much culture as New York (and let's face it, name one that does), culture still plays an important role in the lives of everyday people, even if they themselves don't know it. Here in Savannah, where I'm the arts and culture reporter for the Savannah Morning News, people love -- and I mean love -- high school and college football.

There is an Southern adage worth remembering -- you don't get married in the fall, you don't die in the fall, you don't do anything in the fall except watch football. The result is people are gabbing about football endlessly come autumn. But why can't they also gab about the arts? Their children are involved in all sorts of cultural activities, in school and in other organizations. I suspect parents don't talk about the arts at least in part because such talk would be considered haughty and highfalutin.

Case in point, I was reading the New York Times while waiting for my lunch yesterday. The waitress came by with my order and patiently waited while I moved by newspaper. She said: "I don't want to put this on your New York Times," with a tone of voice that suggested I was some fancy-pants Yankee doing something regular folk, like her, don't do.

But when it comes to the arts, people in reality are very engaged; they just don't talk about it. In my view, that's where we as arts journalists can play a critical role -- by normalizing what they already experience and giving them the vocabulary to use in talking about it. Perhaps someday even a place like Savannah will talk about the arts as endlessly as we do about sports.

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Dance News - Criticism Archive



A Happy Happendance

Joe Nickell

More from Bridgette Redman:

It's not the big budgets that make great art. In fact, I question whether big budgets can get in the way of great art. If art is all about making the sale, recouping the investment, and making sure box office sales are high, doesn't it lose touch with its creative power? Doesn't it become commercial rather than groundbreaking and expressive?

It's why I'm fascinated with groups that are creating compelling art with small to modest budgets. They have a certain freedom to pursue the art which speaks to them rather than the art which will sell to faceless masses created by marketing research composites.

In Lansing, Happendance is one of those groups that everyone knows. They're also a group that has had to be creative in finding ways to survive--especially after state arts funding was frozen in 1991. They're celebrating their 30th year and the story of their survival is one of commitment to their art, sacrifice by its founders, and the generosity of those who believe in dance as an expressive art form that makes our community a better place.

Mike Hughes chronicles that tale in this recent Lansing State Journal article.

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