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The "Death" of Professional Criticism


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#1 abatt

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Posted 15 November 2011 - 12:03 PM

http://www.huffingto..._b_1092125.html

This is a link to an article in the Huffington Post, in which the head of the Kennedy Center bemoans the death of professional arts criticism, and derides chat boards and blogs as legitimate sources of arts criticism. I thought this would be an interesting topic.

Personally, I think that some of the reviews and critiques I read on forums like this are often more insightful and detailed than the reviews of the "professional" critics. The style and quality of the writing may be more informal, but the content sometimes equals or exceeds that of the "professionals."

The thing that I do watch out for in evaluating the opinions expressed in such forums is whether the writer is friends with the dancer he is commenting about. That fact calls into question the objectivity of the writer.

Another issue with bloggers is that some obtain their tickets for free from the company, and fear that the company will cut off their privileges. Their reviews tend to paint an overly-rosy picture of a performance in order to ensure continued free ticket privileges.

#2 Jack Reed

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Posted 15 November 2011 - 01:12 PM

...
Another issue with bloggers is that some obtain their tickets for free from the company, and fear that the company will cut off their privileges. Their reviews tend to paint an overly-rosy picture of a performance in order to ensure continued free ticket privileges.


I thought this was the arrangement between presenters and "professional" critics. Their tickets are given to them, maybe in return for the publicity value of what they publish, whether the review is favorable or unfavorable. "There's no such thing as bad publicity." I'm not sure about that, but nobody will show up for your show if nobody knows about it. Did MCB get any notice in The New York Times while Kisselgoff was there? I think their Paris tour - three weeks! and solid repertory! - happened partly as a consequence of Macaulay's reviews.

But I'm gad to see somebody (else) pays some attention to Michael Kaiser's intelligent remarks - I usually find them provocative in the best sense, and often show the benefit of his decades of experience studying and advising arts-organization administration.

#3 abatt

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Posted 15 November 2011 - 01:20 PM

That' s true Jack. Professional critics do get their tickets for free. However, I don't think any company would revoke the privileges of a professional critic, even if they dislike what the critic wrote. I think a blogger may be much more at the mercy of the kindness of the press office. In fact, it's my understanding that even companies that have given tickets to bloggers have more recently scaled back on free ticket privileges because they are losing too much money by giving away orchestra freebies to bloggers.

#4 Jack Reed

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Posted 15 November 2011 - 01:23 PM

I hadn't made that distinction. Point taken.

#5 lmspear

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Posted 15 November 2011 - 02:00 PM

There are professional critics such as Deborah Jowitt who have have parted ways with their publishers and are now only available to us through their blogs.

I have different expectations when reading blog posts I usually find posts that express the writer's immediate reactions to whatever they are discussing. When I read something by a professional critic, I expect a thoughtful analysis and background information and a higher quality of writing all the way around.

#6 Helene

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Posted 15 November 2011 - 02:27 PM

Most organizations control who gets press tickets, and I doubt that major organizations would ever give press tickets to someone who writes anonymously. (One of the issues with reviews of goods and services on the internet is the number of sock puppet accounts created as PR for a restaurant, salon, etc. or to denigrate competition.) Presumably bloggers who get press tickets are vetted by the company. Surely critics like Tobi Tobias who currently blog most if not all of their reviews should get tickets because their criticism is valuable, as would Apollinaire Scherr, were she not also a critic for "Financial Times".

If organizations give press tickets to bloggers, the bloggers criticize, and the companies pull tickets, the blogger has a platform to "expose" the organization, and this will make Google alerts.

There's a theory that people appreciate free things less. However, getting press tickets doesn't always mean just getting good seats (or what the company thinks are good seats*) -- it can mean getting access to a critics' space and making connections. On the other hand, I can imagine that this can lead to major "How nice for you" snubs as well.

*I fully concede that sitting close allows critics to make ID's that they normally wouldn't be able to, even if they miss the patterns from above. I was sitting in the First Tier of McCaw Hall this past weekend, and over some patrons being seated, I missed the Second Stage fundraising appeal dancer introduce herself. I knew from the costume she was one of the two demis in "Baiser", which meant Amanda Clark or Carli Samuelson (that performance), but I was distracted for several minutes during the actual ballet trying to figure out which one she was. (This wouldn't have happened from my Row K seats Saturday night.)

#7 puppytreats

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Posted 15 November 2011 - 02:33 PM

I don't think so-called "professional critics" are necessarily immune from desires to promote one dancer or company over another, or to advance an intellectual agenda (consciously or not), or from bias. I think bloggers promote and exemplify democracy; particularly in the arena of reviewing arts, this wide-spread dissemination of opinion enriches the reader's experience. Of course, paid-for bloggers or "reviewers" create a problem of reliability. Therefore, a healthy dose of skepticism is required.

#8 abatt

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Posted 15 November 2011 - 02:34 PM

There are professional critics such as Deborah Jowitt who have have parted ways with their publishers and are now only available to us through their blogs.


Jowitt's situation is the exception, rather than the rule. I think Kaiser is referring to ordinary people who have never been compensated for or earned a living from writing arts reviews.

#9 California

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Posted 15 November 2011 - 02:37 PM

Tobi Tobias has a blog. She has had a long and distinguished career writing about dance, but I don't know if she's still published in print somewhere. Anybody know?
http://www.artsjourn...obi_tobias.html

#10 Helene

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Posted 15 November 2011 - 03:46 PM

Jowitt's situation is the exception, rather than the rule. I think Kaiser is referring to ordinary people who have never been compensated for or earned a living from writing arts reviews.


Jowitt's situation is becoming less and less of an exception.

I think Kaiser should have been specific, because there's already the perception that being paid to be the arts critic of a respected arts section or journal is the only way to be a critic. Many "critics" are actually reviewers, and they are like the early dance reviewers, critics of another art form enlisted to write about dance. In most city newspapers, especially with consolidation, the dance critic is a music, film, plastic arts, and/or theater critic, and maybe even a design and/or architecture critic who is expected to cover dance as well.

Does a critic in City A, who is neither trained in dance criticism or has a lot of experience watching dance, be taken more seriously than a dance student who has studied dance history or, for example, our own atm711, whose knowledge and experience spans decades? To beat a dead horse, am I going to take her opinion seriously, or the dance critic from the "Arizona Republic" who didn't have much use for "Giselle"? (In fairness, he's been doing his homework since then.)

Also, Mr. Kaiser may be complaining about his audience. For better or worse, he's got donors to subsidize an art form that for much of the audience is entertainment, even if it's high-brow entertainment, and there's a lot more competition for audience attention and $$$, especially in this economy.

#11 dirac

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Posted 15 November 2011 - 06:32 PM

The "everyone's a critic" mentality that Kaiser mentions certainly does exist. A hazard of writing online is that there are so many voices it can be difficult to make oneself heard and also for readers to tell who really knows what he's talking about. The internet has provided opportunities for writers to be read, mostly unpaid, while the print publications that do pay their writers decent sums are slashing their arts coverage trying to compete with.......the internet. (See this old link here for a long discussion on the subject.)


Tobi Tobias has a blog. She has had a long and distinguished career writing about dance, but I don't know if she's still published in print somewhere. Anybody know?


Like Jowitt, Tobias lost her job as a staff critic and is in online exile. I post links to her blog.

#12 abatt

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Posted 15 November 2011 - 07:58 PM

I think Kaiser's position is arrogant and insulting.

#13 4mrdncr

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Posted 18 November 2011 - 03:07 PM

After reading the linked reviews of BB's recent R&J performances, I was struck by two things:
1) The reviewers (despite writing for 3 different papers) appeared to copy each other in what they noticed and didn't notice--each devoted lots of paragraphs to costumes/sets/mise-en-scene, and especially Prokofiev's score and the merits of BB's orchestra's performance, and less to the dancers or choreography.
2) All three reviews also decried the lack of a 'reconciliation scene' as in the play--and were surprised the performance simply ended with the deaths of R&J.
So, all I could conclude was that the Boston papers had hired music critics to review the ballet and none of them had ever seen it performed before--though one had noted previous BB production's choreographers--either live (or extremely sloppy homework) on DVD. A sorry day for Boston to have to rely on critics/reviewers who seemed to be 'born yesterday'. Even if the reviews were all extremely positive.

#14 Quiggin

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Posted 18 November 2011 - 03:46 PM

I would add a major difference between online criticism and that coming out of traditional newsrooms is that there are no editors and editorial supervision or peer review online.

What if instead of the Journal of American Medicine, it was left to individual online writers to review protcols? Think how much shaping and revision help great editors have given novelists, etc etc

4mrdncrs points about about the sameness of the reviews is right on too.

#15 Alexandra

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Posted 18 November 2011 - 04:36 PM

I would add a major difference between online criticism and that coming out of traditional newsrooms is that there are no editors and editorial supervision or peer review online.


Not always the case. There's definitely editorial supervision on danceviewtimes, and reviews are assigned. But for blogs, that's definitely the case.

I'd add, too, that danceviewtimes started because there were four critics I knew in San Francisco who did not have enough space, and were finding their reviews cut, or things they had expected to review could not be run. We called it DanceView West (as there wasn't room enough in DanceView, the print publication, for their pieces. The week the first issue went up, I was contacted by several critic friends in New York asking if they could write for it, and it changed. At the beginning, we used only professional critics. We've tried out a few since -- many who "auditioned" here on Ballet Talk, several who had a lot of help when they started to write. As an editor, I have my own idea of professional standard and critical objectivity. There are a lot of good writers who love ballet, but we wanted people with perspective.


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