Local Resolutions Part 8 of 29
This is the eighth in a series of 29 ways to help your local community online in 2010. If you missed it, you may wish to read the introductory post.
In this post, I suggest that writing reviews of works and events produced by local artists is a great way to help others from behind the comfort of your keyboard. This series has included recent posts about making a list on Twitter, explaining your position on an issue, and making a habit of giving online.
Everyone’s a critic.
At least, in the sloppy, mean sense. We all tear down things we’re ignorant about. It’s a problem.
But today, everyone has the opportunity to be a critic in the difficult, helpful sense. You can review a work of art with care, looking at it with a critical mind, rather than a critical disposition. You can blog, write a review on any number of sites, record a podcast, make a video, or use whatever other medium suits your fancy. The important thing is that the medium isn’t the problem. It’s no longer a barrier keeping everyone but paid columnists out.
At least, that’s one important thing. The other important thing is that while the medium isn’t hard, the work still is. I can spout off and criticize Ikea (as I have done before on Twitter), and I take flak for it and no one really cares. That’s because playing the critic doesn’t mean simply saying what you think about something. It means explaining how you understand something in a way that others can themselves understand and appreciate. It means communicating in such a way that people don’t shut their eyes and ears to you because you’ve made them so disgruntled right off the bat.
I took a stab at being this sort of critic last April when I reviewed the 2009 Rumschpringe Film Festival, which is held here in Lancaster. I caught some flak for it, online and off, but the dominant reaction by far was appreciation—enough that the event’s organizer, Michael Hoober, was happy to accept an invitation to come on the podcast I co-host to talk about this year’s Rumschpringe in this week’s episode.
I also wrote public reviews of Progressive Galleries when they opened downtown and of the Barry Moser exhibit at the Lancaster Museum of Art. When I write such reviews, here are some of the objectives I have in my mind:
- Explain the event, work of art, or exhibit in such a way that people who wouldn’t easily “get it” can appreciate it. Remember all those “appreciation” classes in school? Poetry appreciation, art appreciation, music appreciation, and so on? The world of art is so fluid and fast-changing that few people have the ability to appreciate most new works of art. We miss out a lot of good art because we throw up our hands and say, “I don’t get it!” I’m with Nicholas Woltersdorff when he says that the primary role of the critic in today’s world is not to review but rather to explain.
- Entice others to experience it for themselves. I try to avoid the pitfall of thinking I have some sort of moral responsibility to keep people from experiencing a work of art for themselves. Sometimes I can’t help it (as in when I encourage you not to see Dogville, not to read Glamorama, not to shopt at Wal-Mart, not to follow the Elements of Style, and not to refer to Eats, Shoots, and Leaves). But overall, I think it’s best, especially when it comes to the local arts scene, to encourage others to check it out for themselves so that a real conversation can take place.
- Treat it like it’s the real deal. One of my hopes for my review of last year’s Rumschpringe film festival was that my taking it seriously as a critic would encourage others to begin or to continue to take it seriously as participants, organizers, and viewers. Real works of art get reviewed, and real artists who produce work for the public submit themselves to the public’s response.
- When assessing, include the good with the bad. I think some of the best feedback you can give as a critic of local art is to say what you would like to see more of and what you would like to see less of. It’s helpful to artists and to event/exhibit organizers to hear feedback like, “This part was great, so keep focusing on it, while this part was hurting, so improve or ditch it in the future.”
- Put it in context. Think about what you’re reviewing in terms of its setting in place and time. What significance do you see in the fact that it exists at this point in history rather than earlier or later? What does it matter that it took place in Lancaster rather than Philadelphia, L.A., or Guadalupe?
Think about what art you’re planning to take in this year and consider whether you might be able to elevate our community’s discourse about the arts by playing the critic. What objectives will you have in mind when you do?