Tuesday, July 24, 2007


The internet has totally changed the world of music and the world of publishing. Now it is transforming the world of arts criticism. The depth, subtlety and economic consequences of blogochange are already being revealed. Major city newspapers across the country are closing down their arts sections, dismissing critics who used to be able to make or break fortunes in Broadway or Hollywood investments, and generally acting out the opinions of small town school boards who have been squeezing the arts out of the schools for decades.

But small newspapers are suddenly open to the idea of the arts, eager to print reports of local productions, symphonies and exhibits. The journalists called upon to supply critiques of the arts feel overwhelmed because -- as one said -- “we’re trained to be journalists but we know nothing about fine arts.” Presumably a journalist only does politics, crime, business, and sports. (They’ve always known the “ladies’ section” was not really journalism. Fashions and recipes -- sheesh. Well, unless they're pulling down big bucks, which usually means a man is doing it.)

Even when a journalist knows a thing or two about arts, his editor might present some difficulties. For instance, more than one editor is reported to say, “Well, there’s no point in covering Whatsit, since it’s just a one-time event.” To evaluate or analyze an event that has already left, is pointless to their mind, because the point of a review is to sell tickets. The editor (and publisher) want control over tickets sold so that they will be sure to get advertising business. This is called “service journalism.” The service is presumably the commodification of culture, so you’ll know how to spend your entertainment dollars.

They’ve been talking about this on the blog called “http://Flyover Country.” As Joe Nickell noted: "Newspapers exist to document the things that happen in our communities, and how those things spin together into a community's sense of self and trajectory of advancement. And sometimes, the most important thing that happened yesterday wasn't a murder, or a football game, or a lawsuit filed against the state. It was a concert."

The conversation continues as follows: “I merely note that the old writing conventions of arts journalism -- the consumer-oriented Ebertian thumbs up and down mode of rhetoric -- cannot be maintained in light of this strange new world of the blogosphere."

John Stoehr writes a summary: “Indeed, there's no point in writing a consumer-oriented review when there are people [on blogs] writing faster and better and with far more passion. The consumerist review made a lot of sense in a 20th century dominated by mass media, a time when we were the gatekeepers to what's good and what's bad. But there's less and less mass in contemporary media these days, because there are more and more gates to be kept by more and more people.”

People have been known to sit in the audience of a performance, reporting on their laptops as the event unfolds. Shall we call this “wet paint” reporting?

“Many Flyover commentators noted that newspapers need to stop reviewing and return to the lost art of criticism -- an old-fashioned writing convention employing the somewhat quaint (according to the logic of service journalism) modes of insight, analysis, commentary, historical context, aesthetic sensibility and other modes and forms of respectful, honest and sensitive literary engagement.”

“Habeas wrote: "There's little to respond to when the theatre 'article' consists of a quick plot summary, a compliment or pan to a few of the actors and production details.

“James A. Weaver wrote that critiques aim for illumination rather than mere evaluation. ‘They establish what aesthetics are intended to accomplish," he said, "and they distinguish the difference between good and bad art.’"

“Mike Boehm, of the Los Angeles Times, said "provocative arts criticism is the best way to spark quid pro quo. But provocative criticism, like negative critiques, requires the backing of management: that is to say, the inch-count to develop your arguments with specific examples, fleshed-out analysis and illuminating comparisons. I'd say at least 20 inches, but most reviews are shoe-horned into 10.”

“As Mike notes, with a bonus caveat: ‘First make sure your editors WANT provocative criticism ... Oh, and when the symphony or museum board chairman calls his/her country club buddy, your publisher, be sure your editors have trained said publisher to say the journalistically correct thing, and mean it.’

Colin Eatock hits it on the head: "[An editor under discussion] appears to distrust expertise--at least in the arts. Presumably he believes that a sports writer should know all about the nickel defense and the three-deep zone, whatever on Earth they are. But arts writers are suspect if they know more than the average reader--or perhaps more than their editors...[A particular editor's] idea of the perfect arts journalist seems to be someone who approaches theatre, jazz or visual art with equal indifference, and not too much book-learnin'."

And I’ll give the last word to Tim Barrus, who is banned from Flyover Country. Watch what happens here. Tim is not complaining about critics, he’s using the blogosphere to criticize the the whole flippin’ culture through the use of the arts, mostly visual, on YouTube, a new art form. To him, You Tube is the global small town, a small town connected by the music culture that depends upon being outrageous. This is not a small town that objects to the f-word -- it’s youth culture vocab and youth culture rebellion, the rhetoric of the outrageous. How’s a flyover journalism person, maybe one who is young, on probation, watching his or her step around big shots (let alone the parents of a potential spouse), supposed to cope with that? If it’s the blogosphere doing the critiquing, it ain’t no prob, baby. Esp. if no one in town knows who the blogger is. (If you are offended by the f-word, stop reading.)

Now, I don't feel so bad about being banned from the FLYOVER blog because: 1.) Smalltime art critics can kiss my ass. 2.) I am not only Flying Over fucking FLYOVER, I am Flying Over fucking mediocrity as well. Which is the only thing to do with mediocrity. Fly over the fucking thing and leave it behind you.
3.) Besides, hypocrite that I am, I ban Lars Eighner (Nasdijj) from my YouTube channel daily.
[He’s a Nasdijj wannabe.]
...For most Yanks, art is something you put on your wall so your friends are impressed. Let's be real here.

“I am a mutant. And ART is a process as is my life. [His new idea of painting and then painting over the painting, but filming the process] would destroy the myth that you can own it and through that confirm your status in the group. And THAT is what goes to the heart of what is and is not public art and all the stupid ideas about copyright and who OWNS what in perpetuity when perpetuity is an ILLUSION. You remove the illusion and people are going to want to MURDER you (trust me). The PROBLEM, the REAL problem Yanks have with public art (and why they're so stingy with it) is that what it confirms is the status of the community, not the individual. What Nasdijj [the Tim Barrus version] confirmed was the IGNORANCE of the community and they find that hard to live with. “

I don’t agree that Flyover Country is necessarily mediocre. I think that’s a bicoastal idea. Of course, scoffing at the inland folks been a convention for a century now. (Canadian academics say, “Publish or prairies.”) Time for a genius somewhere to rise up and do something glorious and irrefutable, not necessarily profane. In fact, come to think of it, maybe that’s what the blogosphere IS! A huge work of art in process.

Some reviewers will continue to concentrate on whose kid did a terrific trumpet solo in the annual concert. But there’s a real value in the Barrus-type International Apocalyptic In-your-face Bite-my-elbow Blood-spattered critique of an oil-besotted culture trying to eliminate the remnants of the Ottoman Empire. I didn’t see “Angels in America” on Broadway but I did buy the DVD at the grocery store.


Steve Durbin said...

Hah! I saw Angels in Helena last year. Can't tell you if there was a review/critique or not, since I live in Bozeman.

Sorry to hear Barrus is barred from Flyover. I hope he tried to post something a lot more outrageous than I saw, which I found to be fresh air.

Da' Goat said...

Great post. I placed a longer comment about it on my own blog. http://prairieinexile.blogspot.com/
I would love to hear what you have to say.