Sunday, November 13, 2011

Blurring of Criticism and Publicity



What is an arts journalist anyway?

Many news outlets have critics who double as arts reporters, but most daily newspapers separate the duties of reviewing and reporting.

Of course, the arts beat isn't the same as the city desk or the Middle East bureau, and so it isn't as if lives are at stake. However, sometimes tax dollars, city planning and policy direction are affected by institutions falling under the jurisdiction of the arts editor. These are the cases for which numbers must be dialed, documents must be examined and shoe leather must be applied.

Then there is a large expanse of column space that is shared, sometimes equally, by reviews and publicity.

What functions do the Arts pages of a newspaper provide if not to tell readers:

A.) What is going on.
B.) Whether or not what is going on is worth their money and time.

It is usually easy to distinguish between and aesthetic assessment and a publicity piece, but sometimes it is trickier.

Take, for instance, the opening paragraph of this New York Times piece from last week about the new Theresa Rebeck play Seminar opening on Broadway next week. The play stars the actor Alan Rickman.

ARTISTS in general, and writers in particular, as everybody knows, tend to be sensitive creatures who receive criticism like body blows. So there’s considerable theater-of-cruelty entertainment in watching four fledgling novelists cringe beneath the blistering stares, scornful dismissals and disdainfully curled lips of Alan Rickman.


It reads very much like a lede for a rave review, no? Read on into the second paragraph, and you are told more about the plot. Then it is revealed that the play is in previews, and only after that do you finally get a quote from the playwright, Ms. Rebeck. In what follows there are other review-like sentences as well.

What a score for the Seminar P.R. team!

In all seriousness though, it did make me think about the blurring of the lines between marketing and aesthetic assessment.

As the online presences of arts organizations grow, will in-house created content slowly evolve to sound more like objective reviews?

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