By January 24, 2008 0 Comments Read More →

A Terrific Game of Critic Kong

Check out the critical conversation in the new Time Out Chicago (“Critical Condition,” by Kris Vire), featuring Booklist‘s very own “books critic,” Donna Seaman (the accidental title makes it seem as if we also have food, TV, and automotive critics). An excerpt:

Kris Vire: Is passion more important than education?

Donna SeamanDonna Seaman: Initially, but passion must lead to discipline and immersion. Expertise is gained from sustained attention.

Don HallDon Hall: I think passion and education go hand in hand. If you’re passionate about theater, you’ll likely educate yourself about it.

Anne HolubAnne Holub: You have to have a passion for it; otherwise, you’re simply not going to bother.

Chuck SudoChuck Sudo: Expertise is gained from sating your curiosity, then realizing there’s still more to learn.

Donna SeamanDonna Seaman: Yes. One must also have the urge to share one’s enthusiasms. To advocate. To be clear about what it is that matters in a work of art.

Sam JonesSam Jones: Formal education is probably not more important than passion, but knowledge of the medium you’re criticizing is.

Anne HolubAnne Holub: Right, and since most subjects are constantly changing and growing, it’s likely going to be a lifelong pursuit.

Jim DeRogatisJim DeRogatis: In as (allegedly) democratic an art form as rock & roll, it is true that literally everyone is a critic. The difference between a good critic and a bad critic is the ability to put into words the reasoning behind those opinions. And there education can be helpful, but it can be as informal as simply being a voracious reader.

Chuck SudoChuck Sudo: Or, if you’re talking about food and drink, as simple as going to that one hole-in-the-wall restaurant you’ve long avoided because of preconceived notions.

Mike SulaMike Sula: Or just being aware of your preconceived notions.

Don HallDon Hall: In order to appropriately criticize, a dollop of self-awareness is necessary – knowing your own prejudices, etc.

Sam JonesSam Jones: Critics are like statistics – what they say is almost meaningless without the underlying story.

Donna SeamanDonna Seaman: Ongoing self-education is essential.

Jim DeRogatisJim DeRogatis: And education is another word for journalism: If you have a perceptive young reader, you can send him or her out to critique something without having a deep knowledge in the subject, so long as he or she does the journalistic homework beforehand. You need not have gone to Juilliard to critique the Rolling Stones, or to have heard all of their 40 or so albums. But you’d better get the facts right when you come back and write up your emotional reaction to the show.

Donna SeamanDonna Seaman: Everyone who reads a book, listens to a piece of music, and so on, experiences a slightly different work of art. A critic has to be able to imagine many responses, and see the experience in a greater context.

Jim DeRogatisJim DeRogatis: Why is that important? Do you really want to know how an 11-year-old experienced Hannah Montana?

Donna SeamanDonna Seaman: Writing is always about exposing the workings of a mind, even a tween with bad taste.

Anne HolubAnne Holub: I want to know how the 11-year-old’s parents experienced paying for those tickets!

Sam JonesSam Jones: We come to trust critics by reading them – that’s how we have traditionally gotten the story.


Believe me, Donna does not look like her icon. She actually looks like this.

Hey, TOC gave yours truly a mention, too! (Chest thump.) Respect.



About the Author:

Keir Graff is Executive Editor of Booklist Publications and the author of five books. His most recent is the middle-grade novel, The Other Felix (2011). Follow him on Twitter at @Booklist_Keir.

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