Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Donna Seaman's Approach to Reviewing the Arts

Donna Seaman, a books critic for Booklist and WLUW's Open Books,  recently  attended an online chatroom with a panel of critics including such fields as books, music, theater, and food. The critics present spanned the spectrum between newspaper writers to independent bloggers.

Donna Seaman stated that she believes in passion first, from which a genuine knowledge of the subject matter would naturally follow. Her criteria for a good critic is to be dedicated to one's field, have a healthy curiosity, and be open, while still maintaining distance enough to keep the work in context. When asked if passion is more important than education, she asserted that one should have discipline and immerse oneself into their specialty through self-education. Sharing one's enthusiasm and focusing on what is important in the art they critique is a major factor as well. Donna touches upon  the fact that everybody experiences the same work of art, be it music,  book, visual art, in a different manner. She believes that the critic should be able to envision someone else's perspective, thus seeing the work in a larger social context. Integrity and trust, she said, are vital for a critic, because one has to have the ability to describe in detail why a certain piece falls short and is sharply criticized.

Donna Seaman's point of view struck a chord with me because, as a linguist, I not only believe in much of what she said, I have experienced it. I have spent my entire life learning foreign languages. Simply put, I have a passion for it. Many aspects were self-taught, such as learning to read and write in Russian when I was 6, or teaching myself French at home. As a linguist, I also learned the various mentalities, philosophies, and ways of live of different cultures. I don't have to agree with them, and I often don't, but at least it helps to understand where they are coming from. It puts things into historical, geographical, or cultural perspective. It sometimes even puts me in a better position to mediate disputes between individuals with different mindsets. The drive and curiosity to keep pushing the envelope to see how much one can learn is crucial. Not only does one gain a reputation in a particular field, but one can also learn one's own strengths, as well as one's limitations.

It is fascinating for me to see how this kind of philosophy and approach gets utilized by a critic of the arts. That, in combination with the viewpoints of the other critics on the panel, makes for lively analysis

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