Organization site - Winter 2001
REVIEW - Reviewing the Arts
Reviewing the Arts
By Campbell B. Titchener
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers
Reviewed by: Napoleon Johnson
Houston Community College
Titchener's Reviewing the Arts, 2nd edition— is an excellent book for journalism students and professionals, as well, who only occasionally review the arts - makes a compelling case in one chapter for the reporter/reviewer-as-generalist.
A case in point is what the reporter is likely to encounter in entertainment circles these days. Consider the Sean "Puffy' Combs case a few months back where the producer/rapper/songwriter and his girl friend, movie star/singer/dancer/songwriter, Jennifer Lopez made a hasty exit from a popular nightspot after a shooting. Puffy is scheduled to go on trial for allegedly having a handgun that he tried to get rid of that could link him to the victims. There is no question this is a hard news story, but the principle characters are entertainment figures. So who covers this story, the police reporter or the entertainment reporter? If the latter, then that person certainly needs some knowledge of the law. If the former, then that person certainly needs some knowledge of the pop icons at the center of the story. Or perhaps they might wind up working together, with the police reporter doing the hard news angle and the entertainment reporter doing a side bar to go with the main story.
What Titchener presents in this relatively small book (187 pages) is a primer ". . . for those generalists in the media who find themselves faced with the prospect of reviewing an artistic event or performance, and for those who teach and train journalism students."
It seems he saw a need for just such a book: "Nowhere, it seems, are there rules or guidelines to follow, and precious few helpful hints."
This update (2nd edition) takes into account two notable changes in the newspaper business: 1) ". . . a growing trend toward the use of part-time writers rather than regular staff members in reviewing the arts," and 2) " . . . a disconcerting rash of violent acts connected with the popular arts."
How can the student or the professional who is called upon to write the occasional review proceed in the face of these changes and produce an acceptable review or criticism? First of all, it might help to know the difference between a critic and a reviewer. And who makes the best critic anyway? The author suggests that the critic probably comes to his/her level of experience covering the arts [usually theatre, drama, dance and fine art, and even architecture) either through performance or through ". . . at least a period of college specialization. On the other hand (and we are using the example of smaller newspapers that may have a limited staff), the general assignments reporter or the reporter who has been covering the police beat or city hall who is occasionally called upon to cover some entertainment event or performance, generally, can be called a "reviewer."
Titchener suggests the latter is the one who can really benefit from this book.
"One may start with the intention of writing a review, but it may turn out to be more of a report if the writer is on unfamiliar ground. A report is an objective account of an event. With opinion it becomes a review, and in-depth analysis makes it criticism. This is an oversimplification, but serves as a starting point because the key to successful reviewing or criticizing is being able to define and comment on creativity."
It helps as well if the reviewer learns and follows "a basic method." Titchener notes five common elements for the successful review. "The five parts of the review are a strong opening, a strong closing, identification, summary and opinion. In one way or another, the huge majority of acceptable, successful reviews will incorporate them."
Reviewing the Arts is an excellent guide for students or professionals who need help producing acceptable reviews of all the arts. It includes chapters on film, television, music, architecture and sculpture, and even a chapter on the ethics of the reviewing business. I'm glad I have a copy of my own to use as a resource, and you can bet I'll be sharing it with students who join the college newspaper staff.