Charles Dickens working on his craft
After over 27 years of reviewing fine and performing arts projects, I have a greater awareness of an arts reviewer or critic’s mindset. The fact is reviewers and critics are human first and journalist second. This means that their moods, life circumstances, and job stress along with opinions and beliefs color their reviews and critiques. So if an artist receives a “bad” review of a gallery showing or if a musician receives a “poor” rating from a music journalist, my advice is don’t take it personally.
I’ve experienced life on both sides of the fence since I’ve had my music and writing reviewed for nearly three decades. I’ve received mostly favorable reviews, but I encountered music journalists on the other side of the pond (England) with axes to grind with other women. These particular journalists I believe were a rarity as most journalists I’ve met who work in the arts actually want to give favorable reviews.
See what you need to know about arts journalists is that most of them don’t get paid well unless they’re a major player at a major newspaper and even some of those journalists lost their jobs in recent years. Blogger journalists work for free and have taken the bulk of CD reviews especially since fewer and fewer music magazines exists any longer and certainly the editors don’t have enough space to review the plethora of recordings that come out each month, representing various genres, including traditional folk, which is overlooked in favor of world, jazz, rock, pop and European classical music.
I realize I have written my share of mixed reviews and I do always say something positive even when I didn’t enjoy listening to a particular recording or watching a particular movie. Arts journalists are overworked with piles of recordings to review each week and more always on the way or they attend so many movie screenings in a week, that their eyes blur. For instance, when I covered the film festivals, Seattle International Film Festival in particular, I saw around 100 movies in three weeks.
I woke up around 6:00 a.m. to write reviews from the previous day’s screenings, and by noon be back at a theater to watch my first screening of the day, then I watched three or four movies per day, sometimes squeezing in interviews with directors, actors, and producers for a website, then returned home late, just to start over again. I usually had a bad head cold by the time the festival ended.
(We also took home movie screeners (videos or DVDs) and started screening movies two to three weeks prior to the festival).
Then I spent several weeks catching up on reviews, transcribing tapes from the interviews and uploading articles on a website or sending my reviews to publications. I burned out after three years of that and no, I didn’t earn a lot of money for my time and effort.
I recently stopped reviewing recordings after over 25 years because the stress of listening to several recordings a week, researching the artists and then writing reviews took away from the hours where I could be earning a living. Besides, my brain started numbing after listening to all that music, most of it brilliant, but still, the brain needs silence too. So you can imagine why some recordings, especially if it was the third recording reviewed that day, would receive a lukewarm review. Like I said, earlier, it’s a mistake to take reviews personally unless the reviewer has an ax to grind and to be honest, I never did.
Critics go into writing about the arts because they love the arts. They have opinions about the arts and some of them wish they had artistic talent or do have it, but don’t have the time to pursue it. Some art critics turn art criticism into art because they have profound insights, vast knowledge of the arts, and excellent writing skills. I used to drool over other journalists reviews, even if they didn’t agree with me about a particular movie. And many art critics transformed into celebrities themselves. Their opinions mattered because they could make or break a project or artist.
So now that you have these insights into arts journalism, take reviews with a grain of salt. Sometimes the worst reviews transform us, cause us to work harder and create better work down the road that is critic-proof. Then we must remember that even artistic geniuses make bad album, artwork or movies. I’m only a fan of some of Fellini’s movies for example and some of his movies would receive scathing reviews from me only because they seem overindulgent and expect too much of a movie audience. Yet, I believe that Fellini’s “La Dolce Vita” is one of the best movies made during cinema history.
My final word is that you can substitute agent or editor for movie critic/reviewer. Just because your manuscript doesn’t float one agent’s boat, doesn’t mean another one won’t fall in love with it. Agents and editors also deal with high stress levels and as you know, working with temperamental artists is no picnic either. And if it makes you feel better, think of all the editors who missed the boat with the “Harry Potter” series by rejecting it. This just goes to show, we’re all human and as humans, we make errors in judgement. So buck up and carry on.
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