Best Practices of Being a Critic

For those who love to blog, status update, twitter or tumblr about shows they’ve seen, things they’ve eaten, places they’ve gone to:

I loved this read from Terry Teachout, the theater critic for the Wall Street Journal.  It outlines 15 best practices for arts journalism and journalistic criticism of most varieties.  We all know I have been guilty of breaking a few of these in my time.  I believe that  most critics break one or two from time to time- we all have our stylistic weaknesses and our passionate pet peeves (Mine: acting in musicals!).  But I think it is a good little checklist for knowing when you’re writing up some good, solid criticism versus cheerleading or being a humbug.

Here’s the post:

And here are my favorites from the list (with my few comments in brackets):

3. Be specific. Pay attention. If it’s a book, say what it was about, and quote it at least once. If it’s a painting, say how big it is. If it’s an opera, say how long it lasted. (Wear a watch.) One detail can light up a whole review–if it’s the right detail.

4. Always remember that a performance is a news event. Try to make your readers feel they were there. If the audience loved it and you didn’t, say so–nicely. [This is always a good thing to remember: sometimes you are not the target audience for what’s being presented. Acknowledge that.-HP]

5. Unless you’re writing a capsule review, spend more time describing what you saw than giving your opinion of it. If the description is vivid, the opinion will be implicit.

10. Don’t condescend to your readers. Some of them know more than you do. [Especially about their own communities. -HP]

11. Always treat artists with respect. Most of them know how to do something you can’t do. [Truth!- HP]

12. Be fair–but not flabby. Don’t hold the Podunk Chamber Players to the same standards as the Vienna Philharmonic. Everybody gets points for showing up, and more points for getting the curtain up, though not necessarily an A. If a performance is terrible, say so, but insofar as possible, side with its strengths. (Old Irish proverb: If you can’t be easy, be as easy as you can.)

14. Don’t be afraid to be wrong.  [And to say so. . . eventually. -HP]

15. DON’T BE AFRAID TO BE ENTHUSIASTIC!  [And don’t be afraid to have mixed feelings. -HP]

Addison DeWitt, the critic everyone loved to hate in "All About Eve"

Addison DeWitt, the critic everyone loved to hate in “All About Eve”

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