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The "Death" of Professional Criticism


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#16 dirac

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Posted 18 November 2011 - 05:11 PM

I think the Globe review was written by Karen Campbell. I don't know her background well, but Marcia B. Siegel and Jeffrey Gantz are both experienced dance writers.

Writers for the internet have an advantage in that many of them are preaching to the converted - they write for an audience that has sought them out and can already be expected to know much of what writers for general interest publications feel constrained to explain. This often leads to livelier writing, based on the assumption of shared knowledge on the part of reader and writer. (Very similar to sports pages, where some of the best writing in the paper is to be found.) Often they have more space, as well. And unless they're writing for the Times, they generally don't get to review later performances, which means less time and space to discuss casting and dancers.

#17 Helene

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Posted 18 November 2011 - 05:15 PM

Most of what we read on the Internet from newspaper critics is the same version that appears in print, constrained by print space. I think this is a missed opportunity, since having a longer piece online could drive traffic to the publication's website, thus possibly generating more online advertising revenue through hits and links.

#18 dirac

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Posted 18 November 2011 - 05:16 PM

Many papers already offer additional commentary online in the paper's blog space, and they also post photo galleries, video, etc.

#19 Helene

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Posted 18 November 2011 - 05:26 PM

Sure, if the reader is motivated and wants to dig for it. I haven't seen that many print publications that make a direct link to what's in print and what's online.

#20 dirac

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Posted 18 November 2011 - 05:32 PM

Odd. I have the impression quite a few do, but I could be mistaken.

Another nice thing is that many link to older articles on the same topic that the reader might have missed the last time around.

#21 Birdsall

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Posted 18 November 2011 - 07:15 PM

As a newbie to ballet, I find all the critiques and comments I read here very helpful as opposed to a NY Times review of a performance. What happens is that you read so many opinions, and you compare with what you felt when you saw the ballet or video or YouTube clip, and I find it very educational. I don't think criticism will ever die. Whenever you get die hard fans of a particular art form, there will be criticism.

I am a 20 year veteran opera attendee and the same thing applies. Parterre Box, to give one example, has quite critical people on it and I am sure the opera singers who read the site have to have very thick skin. There is no holding back. You also can't post your thoughts on an opera performance without backing up your view or you as an audience member and amateur reviewer will be torn to shreds on the site as well. But you learn by comparing your views with those of many others. I think the blogs are wonderful! They have made it normal to read many people's differing views on a production or performance.

I find that professional reviews of operas often seem like puff pieces, b/c usually the critic hobnobs with the singers, General Directors, etc. I can read an opera review sometimes and read between the lines and tell that a reviewer thought it was horrendous, even though his review is quite polite. There must be a reason for being polite, and I think that is because the professional reviewers face all the people involved in a performance literally face to face often, and it is harder to be critical of artists when you know them and like them as people and know your words will hurt their feelings. So I believe professional critics are forced into being more polite and less harsh and less honest as they would actually like to be.

#22 Quiggin

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Posted 18 November 2011 - 07:40 PM

By online content, I was being overly broad and meant blogs rather than publications like danceviewtimes...And dirac seems to have had more luck than I have. Quora is an interesting model in that it does seem to have strict ongoing peer editorship.

The London Revew of Books, New York Review and New Yorker have blogs on the front page, but the material is shorter and more topical - and doesn't have the depth and shape of the texts in the journal proper, which the writer has had considerable time to live with and mull over.

#23 dirac

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Posted 19 November 2011 - 12:31 PM

The London Revew of Books, New York Review and New Yorker have blogs on the front page, but the material is shorter and more topical - and doesn't have the depth and shape of the texts in the journal proper, which the writer has had considerable time to live with and mull over.

My hunch is that may well be intentional. The blogs are there to try to keep current and satisfy online readers' constant appetite for new material, and the longer pieces, many of which remain under subscription bar, are for paying readers. Online readers often seem to have a lack of patience with long articles, at least judging by what bloggers say and these rather sad exhortations to "read the whole thing."

Some of the best dance criticism was written by Denby while he was subbing for Robert Lawrence and Walter Terry.

#24 Alymer

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Posted 20 November 2011 - 02:22 AM

Critics and criticism have changed hugely in the past years and the changes began long before the advent of blogging. It's a year or two since I was able to go to the theatre regularly but it had become unusual to see a critic at anything other than an official press night, which was not the case twenty years ago. At that time serious critics would try to catch most or all casts and would often see a visiting company more than once. And that applied (in some cases) even if they had to pay for a ticket. In London, at least, there tend not to be special areas for critics, although the press is sometimes offered a glass of wine in the interval.
One other thing to bear in mind about professional critics is that they have to cover everything, regardless of whether it appeals or not, and write about it objectively. Bloggers, on the other hand, seem mainly to choose companies, programmes or casts they like or are particularly interested in which narrows their range of experience. Obviously, the fact that they have to pay good money for a ticket is a big factor in this. Why would you spend money to have a bad time?

#25 puppytreats

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Posted 20 November 2011 - 05:58 AM

Critics and criticism have changed hugely in the past years and the changes began long before the advent of blogging. It's a year or two since I was able to go to the theatre regularly but it had become unusual to see a critic at anything other than an official press night, which was not the case twenty years ago. At that time serious critics would try to catch most or all casts and would often see a visiting company more than once. And that applied (in some cases) even if they had to pay for a ticket. In London, at least, there tend not to be special areas for critics, although the press is sometimes offered a glass of wine in the interval.
One other thing to bear in mind about professional critics is that they have to cover everything, regardless of whether it appeals or not, and write about it objectively. Bloggers, on the other hand, seem mainly to choose companies, programmes or casts they like or are particularly interested in which narrows their range of experience. Obviously, the fact that they have to pay good money for a ticket is a big factor in this. Why would you spend money to have a bad time?


Or time. A professional critic attends performances, conducts research, and writes for his job. People with other types of jobs that require heavy time commitments do not have the luxury of spending considerable amounts of time leisure activities, such as attending theatre.

#26 Helene

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Posted 20 November 2011 - 09:43 AM

One other thing to bear in mind about professional critics is that they have to cover everything, regardless of whether it appeals or not, and write about it objectively. Bloggers, on the other hand, seem mainly to choose companies, programmes or casts they like or are particularly interested in which narrows their range of experience.

This is such an important point.

I look at some of the things Leigh Witchel covers in the "Post" and am glad that I can choose to do other things that night. He's got to know what he's talking about across a huge range of dance, which takes years of visual experience as well as knowledge and context. Plus, he's got to be able to write about it in a tight format for his audience by the next morning.

I might post here instead of blogging, but I think the principles are the same, since it's not about raising money through ad links. If I see something and am not sure what to make of it, or get busy with something else, I can choose to not write. If I need a month to mull it over, I can. If I want to focus on one piece in depth and ignore or simply give mention to another, I can. I get to set my own standards, and while I have numerous role models, if I don't reach that quality, no one is going to discuss why I should be fired. (I knew that rule we had about "discussing the discussion" was handy.)

#27 variated

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Posted 21 November 2011 - 06:17 AM

I too agree that choosing what you go to see is one of the key differences between professional and non-professional critics. The latter are in many cases simply "fans" who create an altogether different type of discourse. To take an example, detailed internet coverage of the Royal Ballet in London has increased vastly over the past few years, which at first sight appears encouraging. A group of the most rabid fans and most frequent attenders also engage in mindless banter with each other and some of the RB dancers on twitter.

Of course ballet companies have always had their fans who would hang around at the stage door and meet up in the interval, but now they are drifting into an online space which at first glance appears to overlap with criticism/reviews but is in reality closer to a promotional tool for the company. The focus is on the minutiae of dancers' lives - who is dating who?, how do they prepare their pointe shoes?, what do they eat for breakfast? - with little or no objective questioning of the artistic value of performances. It's not more than a soap opera and I really question whether the new "diversity" of opinions ushered in by the internet has added anything of value.

#28 Mashinka

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Posted 21 November 2011 - 07:04 AM

As a Londoner, I rarely see any honest criticism about the RB other than here.

Actually some of the online critics are really good, such as Sophia on Dansomanie, and Ballet.co's Ian Palmer and CriticalDance's Lyndsy Winship both now write professionally (the latter for The Guardian). It's a question of being selective as some posters are frankly a joke whereas others write better than the professionals - and with a greater depth of knowledge too.

#29 abatt

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Posted 21 November 2011 - 07:12 AM

http://www.guardian....-critics-awards

Stephen Sondheim disputes Michael Kaiser's position. See article from the Guardian, above.

#30 dirac

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Posted 21 November 2011 - 11:08 AM

Well, Sondheim is writing from the point of view of theater, where critics continue to wield more power than they do in other art forms. Strange reading this sort of thing from him, though:

There are thousands of critics tapping away their opinions to whoever will listen – so who needs a paid pontificator to tell you what your opinion should be?


Sondheim might disagree but quite a few of the "paid pontificators," by which I assume he means trained professional critics with background and qualifications - have done rather well by him over the years.


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