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Wednesday, June 03, 2009


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Diana Nollen

Very interesting, but I don’t agree.

Fortunately, I live in an area where the professional and semi-professional arts are generally very, very good. And when they aren’t, I have no problem saying so, without being cruel to the homegrown artists. (The pros are fair game – no holds barred.)

I approach reviews as an educated, informed assessment of entertainment value, artistic achievement, technical achievement/environment and how well the artists treated their audience. I’ve always felt it doesn’t matter if I like a particular genre or not, after reviewing about 2,000 shows, I know when a performer has done a good job.

I don’t just write for the people who were there – they have their own opinions and most likely were fans in the first place. I try to describe the event for the readers who weren’t there or are contemplating whether or not to attend a subsequent performance. People also need to know when pot is being smoked openly at a venue or when a performer is doing, in essence, a porn show on stage. Parents/educators need to know what their teens were seeing.

That philosophy has served me well and thankfully, has developed a level of trust among readers.

Diana Nollen
Arts & Entertainment editor
The Gazette
Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Jeff Tompkins

This may be an unpopular opinion, but here goes:

It's been many years since I read a review of a book, movie, band, etc.

It dawned on me at some point that I had never read a review that introduced to me something that hadn't been passed along by word of mouth, short advertisement or a flyer stapled to a telephone poll. And never once did I decide not to buy a book, CD, movie or concert ticket based on a review.

So I asked myself, why was I reading reviews? Why did I care what someone else thought about something that I had already decided to consume or not to consume?

This is not to say that nobody can get something out of a review. After all, this is all subjective, just like reviews themselves. Maybe we need professional critics of professional critics.


If we're going to declare that criticism has value, then we absolutely MUST have meta-criticism. I know at least one such person and I think he's the perfect candidate to reinvent the form, although I don't think he sees himself in that role. Maybe he'll see this comment and speak to it.

The old model, based on limited bandwidth, held that the educated people who owned printing presses could select and hire educated people who could write criticism, and that the feedback mechanism would be selected letters to the editor.

But in the new model, "publishing" isn't that much different than conversation. Which is good, because in theory it should raise the bar for professional criticism. I just don't think that's happened yet.

Diana, I've written much the way you do, and perhaps the big difference is that I haven't seen 2,000 performances. No doubt the more you see, the better your recognition (See: US Postal Service handwriting recognition neural network). Perhaps your education prepared you better for the job.

For me, though, reviewing is often unsatisfying because I can't confidently respond to the criticisms of my work. I'm standing on sand.

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