Friday, October 09, 2009

Arts Criticism - When It's Free, Does It Matter to People?

Leonard Jacobs counters Norman Lebrecht's notion that "the public does not, on the whole value unsolicited opinion."

Lebrecht uses the example of the culture pages of free newspapers - like the Metro, but Leonard brings up an excellent point:

I would counter — and this argument can be found amongst the comments at the bottom of Lebrecht’s post — that paid content, in the form of a newspaper, magazine or even a website, imparts no more value to readers than free content.


Let's consider the matter from a New York theater viewpoint. It was well more than 10 years ago that The Village Voice went free. Michael Feingold, whom I consider the gold standard in American theater criticism, has proven himself capable of stirring public debate when he wishes to. In terms of “box-office activity,” well, that’s another matter: it’s unclear whether any arts journalist anywhere, regardless of how eloquent their yea or nay words are, can influence consumer spending on culture.


silent nic@knight said...

"it’s unclear whether any arts journalist anywhere, regardless of how eloquent their yea or nay words are, can influence consumer spending on culture."


Back in the day, Broadway producers feared a bad review from Frank Rich; it would close the production. Of course it’s not like that now, but a good review from the NYTimes,regardless of how eloquent, increases the box office of any production.

Art journalism has always had a hand in glove relationship with the “consumer” of art. For a theatre and theatre productions, the theatre review has always been, and will remain, a primary “representation” within a PR package toward building box office. That is changing now with the demise of print, but it’s unclear exactly what the new beast slouching to born in the on-line world will render as alternative.

Art journalism seems to be moving into an area that makes it almost indistinguishable from promotion. For instance, all these playwright and theatre artist interviews that are happening on blogs, should they be considered journalism? I think not. But most of the new activity in theatre writing in NYC is in a similar vein. Even those writing within “objective review” genre are still unabashedly promoting “indie theatre” in a scene that is very buddy-buddy between the new artists and the new writers. This is probably good for theatre in a box office sense, but this will likely prove to have little value for art journalism or theatre as art form.

Art said...

Hi nic,

Thanks for the comment. It is interesting watching this all develop.

A New York Times Culture Reporter talked with readers in the past few days. One thing people were interested in: How do you decide what to cover?

A fascinating question, no? Even for all of us out here.

I teach a course at Emerson College in the Cultural Journalism program, and I think a lot about that question.

What is important? What is necessary?

If you notice, I even have a plug my show on the site today! ;) Important and necessary, I assure you.

(Side note: I thought Leonard was kind of clear that the Times is an exception to his point, right?)

silent nic@knight said...

“What is important? What is necessary? “

That should be the only question for both journalism and art. But it’s a difficult question to answer, and even with an answer, almost impossible to practice.

For instance, to keep perspective in theatre, we should measure the value of say, “a play about HIV victims,” against the value of say, “a serum for HIV.” Art journalism should have an equivalent perspective, perhaps measuring the value of its story within the historical context as opposed to its contemporary newsworthiness.