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A Theater Criticism/Arts Journalism Primer

Refereeing the Muses

Bob Abelman and Cheryl Kushner

A Theater Criticism/Arts Journalism Primer: Refereeing the Muses examines the skill set associated with being a critic and arts journalist. It explores the history, evolution, and future of the profession in the United States, and carefully and purposefully dissects the preparation, observation, and writing process associated with generating thoughtful and interesting arts criticism.
Using theatrical productions as the best and most vivid example of a storytelling enterprise that employs creativity, imagination, collaboration, aesthetics, and artisanship to effectively engage an audience, this book is intended to generate the critical thinking and critical writing skills necessary to effectively engage in all forms of arts journalism.
It is designed to be used as a college-level textbook on theater criticism and arts journalism courses, for those looking to become more thoughtful, critical consumers, for casual critics thinking about starting a blog or working for their university newspaper, and for working critics hoping to improve their craft.
The text is written in an accessible style and includes quotes from renowned critics and arts practitioners throughout as well as frequent sidebars that offer timely, insightful, and entertaining examples of the points being made in the text.


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Chapter 10: Writing a Critique


ƒ C h a p t e r 1 0 Writing a Critique “Wait,” says Mark Rothko, eminent abstract expressionist painter, to his young assistant in the opening moments of John Logan’s 2010 Tony Award-winning drama Red.2 Staring into the audience as if one of his emotionally raw black-on-red oversized painted canvases was hanging overhead, Rothko continues: Stand closer. You’ve got to get close. Let it pulsate. Let it work on you. Closer. Too close. There. Let it spread out. Let it wrap its arms around you; let it embrace you, filling even your peripheral vision so nothing else exists or has ever existed or will ever exist. Let the picture do its work—But work with it. Meet it halfway for God’s sake! Lean forward, lean into it. Engage with it!... Now, what do you see? The play Red is a profile of a great American artist from the 1950s. But it is also a treatise on the creative process—on the making of art, the appreciation of art, the collection of art, and even the critiquing of art. In his opening monologue, Rothko asks the questions we should be asking ourselves when we encounter the product of great creativity: So, now, what do you see?—Be specific. No, be exact. Be exact—but sensitive. You under- stand? Be kind. Be a human being, that’s all I can say. Be a human being for once in your life! These pictures deserve compassion and they live or die in the eye...

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