Other Arts

by Jason Gross

7 January 2009

Fine writing outside of music but still bearing on music.

Peter Cole: “How Journalists Write
(Guardian, September 25, 2008)
An excellent primer for anyone who wants to write about music (or any arts). Granted, some music scribes like to think that they’ve aced a creative writing class, but as Cole points out, writing an article ain’t the same as writing a book. Here’s another thing that these deluded scribes should keep in mind: you’re not Lester Bangs, and that ain’t necessarily an impressive goal anyway.

Jon Fine: “The Daily Shrinking Planet
(BusinessWeek, June 12, 2008)
I still insist that the news biz and the record biz are going through a lot of the same growing pains with the advent of the Net, but Fine makes an important distinction. “While you can record and distribute an album cheaply, some forms of journalism still take serious chunks of time, manpower, and resources to create.”  Which isn’t to say that a record still doesn’t necessarily need a lot of time and manpower and resources to get the music right, but the means to do so is much easier now. The same is true with publishing online, but as Fine says, real reporting still takes legwork.

Mark Lawson: “Eek! Who Let the Critic In?
(Guardian, June 23, 2008)
Nice to know that music scribes aren’t the only ones being shut out of the early review process, as film critics are getting the shaft more and more often. Come to think of it, maybe it isn’t so comforting that any arts writer is being shut out of the process. If critics are such a despised and un-influential lot, then why should entertainment companies be so scared of getting bad reviews?

Brian Lowry: “Critics Get Thumbs Down from Auds
(Variety, June 17, 2008)
Ah, poor critics… So out of touch with the mainstream. Why can’t they just love everything that happens to be the biggest seller at the moment?  That would make them unthinking robots and un-representative of whichever readership they have, but what the hell… Lowry adds heft to this old argument with observations about who is supposedly qualified to judge certain pieces of art: “The bottom line is that, in theory, anyway, accidents of birth like pigmentation or penises shouldn’t determine whether a critical opinion has merit.”  But at the very least, as an intern explains to him, it’s a duty for a scribe to keep up with your field nevertheless: “you have a social responsibility to stay up with the times… with what’s going on.”

Farhad Manjoo: “Why Chris Anderson’s “Long Tail” Theory Might Be All Wrong
(Slate, July 14, 2008)
The title pretty much tells you the premise, but Manjoo’s article rides on the back of Anita Elberse’s study in the Harvard Business Review. It turns out that blockbusters still rule all forms of entertainment, with the long tail material in small and short supply. Of course, Anderson disputes this, but as is only fair, Elberse re-disputes him.

Ajesh Patalay: “The 50 Greatest Arts Videos on YouTube
(Guardian, August 31, 2008)
You could argue all day about what was left out, but a collection like this is a gift, including many things you probably didn’t see or even knew existed. Favorites include Nabokov discussing Lolita, an 82-year-old Stravinsky conducting “The Firebird Suite”, Kerouac reading from On the Road, a pre-fame Nirvana playing in a garage, and Scorsese visiting the real mean streets. In case you miss the Bette Midler link to her performing live at the Bathhouse (with a pre-fame Barry Manilow accompanying her), luckily it’s available elsewhere.

Jay Rayner: “Is It Curtains for Critics?
(Guardian, July 13, 2008)
More a survey of blogs and newspaper scribes than a think piece, it does let all sides sound off about the crisis of disappearing print critics and whether the bloggers are ably filling the gap or not. “...everyone has an opinion, but not everyone has an informed opinion,” says one scribe. “...we can claim authority only by being good,” a blogger answers later.

Adrian Searle: “Critical Condition
(Guardian, March 18, 2008)
Yet another ‘death of criticism’ article, but also one that makes a good case about why the average reader should be concerned, as well as a warning to scribes about what their mission should be. “Of course it is the duty of the critic to be iconoclastic, and to be reckless; but critical terrorism is no good as a long-term strategy. It becomes predictable, and the adrenaline buzz soon wears off. It is also disingenuous, and ultimately a false position. There is such a thing as bad faith, and lousy opinions.”

S. James Synder: “Rescuing the Critical Mass with Exile Cinema
(New York Sun, June 16, 2008)
A new book that points celluloid buffs to great directors they might not know about is also a good excuse to ruminate over the dwindling number of movie critics out there and what their function really is. Not only can they turn fans onto great underground movies they might not know about, they can also create forums for intelligent dialog. Needless to say, great writers in any field of entertainment can and should do the same thing.

Scott Timberg: “Highbrow. Lowbrow. No Brow. Now What?
(Los Angeles Times, July 27, 2008)

An interesting meditation on how the cultural divides are crumbling and how we’re entering an age of post-‘brow’ culture. Timberg thanks the Beatles and mass media, but don’t discount the effect of the Net, which provides seemingly limitless info and ready access to all types of art.

Ivor Tossell: “Digital Memories Can Be Fleeting
(Globe and Mail, August 29, 2008)
And so can our virtual memory, as Tossell points out. The sites hosting our musings through blogs (not to mention articles) might not always be around, leaving us to wonder how much of our ongoing musings (which might stretch back years) will disappear if a site/company/publication can’t get enough revenue. Maybe pen and paper is a better bet.

Chris Wilkinson: “Why Local Critics Deserve a Standing Ovation
(Guardian, October 28, 2008)
At the title tells you, the article’s moony over the disappearing species known as the local theatre critic, but it could just as well apply to many US papers who are cutting back on arts coverage and reprinting syndicated columns instead. Just as local theatre critics help give perspective and focus to smaller demographics, local music scribes could (and should) do the same for performers.

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