The changing nature of art criticism has long been a matter of discussion, even concern.
With the variety of shows on offer today and the sheer number of writers, what good is a “bad” review going to do? Wouldn’t it be easier to move on after the disappointment and instead write about something you really liked, rather than risk the backlash of being “judged” or “cruel”?
But bad reviews play a bigger role than just expressing a person’s opinion. In the UK, it’s often embraced as a launching pad for critical discussion, while the ‘kindness’ of a critic can be more damaging – especially as the world tries to wade through its backlog of shows – only good.
A “bad” review should not be poorly worded or inconsistent – indeed, it should simply be characterized as a negative review, one that is critical, informed and analyzes the work in light of reasonable expectations and relevance. contextual.
ArtsHub spoke to our own editors about the value of negative reviews and how to speak your mind professionally.
Negative reviews encourage learning and improvement
National Performing Arts Editor Richard Watts said: “Given the plethora of responses to works that exist online – including tweets dashed by disgruntled members of the public as well as a wide range responses on blogs, Facebook and a wide range of media – I would argue that there is actually a greater need for informed, incisive and accurate reviews than ever before.
Indeed, “both rave reviews and negative reviews are also about professional practice,” said Gina Fairley, ArtsHub’s National Visual Arts Editor.
She continued, “While a good review can boost ticket sales or turn into promotional beacons for the producer or organizer, a negative review can play a more valuable role for an artist to address their professional practice and l ‘help to progress’.
For editor Thuy On, it’s about “holding producers accountable to an acceptable standard”.
“While no reviewer likes to write a ‘bad’ review, if taken in good faith, the theater company or book publisher or other art form under public scrutiny may even learn something thing about what to do next time to reduce the chances of getting another bad review,” On said.
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Writer Suzannah Conway, and also a regular ArtsHub reviewer, has a similar view.
Conway said: ‘[Negative reviews] definitely worth it. A company/artist can only improve their work if they can understand or learn from works that did not impress or did not meet accepted standards.
And it’s also important to keep in mind the time and effort that writers actually put into constructed criticism in the hopes of prompting reflection and evaluation.
Conway continued, “It’s much harder to write a bad review than a good one, of course. It’s easier to be lyrical than to have to carefully craft a sensible, logical response that will be helpful to the person/company being examined and hopefully help them improve. This is a key value of critical thinking – an ability to offer meaningful and valid criticism, without ever being offensive, personal or rude.
Tips for writing a negative review
If you’ve recently seen something that didn’t quite live up to the hype, “be brave enough to believe in the strength of your beliefs,” On said.
She continued, “If you sincerely believe that the artistic product you are reviewing is disappointing, say so unequivocally.”
Editors and writers have shared their top three tips for writing an effective negative review.
Be professional, not personal
Fairley said, “You’re a professional, so be professional. Try removing “personal” and be sure to filter your comments through that professional lens.
“If you make a criticism, explain why and give solid context to that argument. A good review always places what you’re reviewing in a larger context that extends the reader.
Also, “avoid loaded language,” Fairley said. “Would you say that to your face? Think of a negative review as a breadcrumb trail to continue the journey forward – to get the reviewee to step away from reading and say, “I understand what she’s saying.”
Conway also stressed the need to remain professional. ‘Know what you’re talking about – there’s no point in being critical if you don’t know what you’re doing.’
Also, “there is no excuse for misbehaving and being rude”. Just because you don’t like it doesn’t mean everyone feels the same,’ Conway said.
Being “logical and to the point in your reviews” is the way to go, where “professional and unemotional is so much better than saying something like ‘I really hated that!’ »
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Support your argument with concrete examples
Just as it pays to be specific with the qualities of a show or person you admire, specificity can be incredibly helpful in criticism.
One said, “Be sure to provide specific examples of what the product did below average to support your argument.” For example, was the narrative muddy and incomprehensible due to an overabundance of narrators jumping four generations? Were the pacing, costumes, and lighting of the theater space counterproductive to the themes of the play? Was the exhibition space unsuited to the scale of the visuals?
In the exercise of identifying specific examples, Watts said it’s important to “engage with the work you’ve seen, not the work you hoped to see.”
In his experience, bad reviews – those that are poorly written – often fall into this trap. ‘Heaven knows I wrote a few bad reviews early in my career when I was more concerned with my reaction to a work (my belief that something was good or bad) instead of recognizing that I had to engage with the work and consider what it had to say and how much it said.
Give praise where it’s due
Many councils emphasized that being critical does not mean being cruel.
Watts said, “Try not to be cruel, however tempting it may be if the production looks really dire.” Remember that every work of art, regardless of medium, is a labor of love for the person or people who created it, and temper your venom with praise where it’s due. Did you find the scenario banal and the performance flat and lacking in chemistry? Then be sure to highlight what deserves praise, such as sound design and lighting.
Conway shared a similar view: “Be respectful – the artist/company probably did their best to make this happen and at least deserves respect for their attempt.”
In most cases, it is not useful to compare the review to someone else or to another job. Focus instead on the current production or exhibition, and what it has or hasn’t done.
Conway also gave advice on using language to soften the blow of a bad review. Suggestive phrases like “it seemed like” or “it would seem like” might help people see your point more clearly.
One final tip: remember why you decided to write a negative review in the first instance, and use these tips to see if it was well thought out.
Watts concluded, “A negative review serves several purposes: on one level it’s a feedback to the artist (hopefully not too scathing) that might help them reconsider that particular work in the future, a times he won’t be so close that he can’t recognize his flaws.
“Negative reviews also serve to document an artistic career, tracing its development and mastery of a medium; like all journals, they serve as documentation – an especially important consideration when dealing with ephemeral art forms like live performance.
And finally, a negative review also serves to advise potential audience members on whether a particular production is worth their time and money – an important consideration when considering price. ticket from many major productions across the country,’ Watts said.
They also added, “Remember, you’re writing for an audience, a visitor, or a potential reader. It’s your responsibility as a reviewer to let them know what’s in store for them: good and bad.