Last night I went to see a play - and I was working. The review is already up on Northings, here, by one of those miracles of ezine-publishing. Increasingly I seem to be going to arts events with my reviewer hat on. I wondered if it would reduce my enjoyment of such events, but I'm reaching the conclusion that mostly, it enhances the experience. Because I know I am going to have to communicate about it afterwards, I really pay attention, and as a result I think I notice a broader range of what is happening. I am tuned to think about how the art is being presented. To put it bluntly, I make more of an effort. Instead of waiting for it to wash over me, I go to it, I reach into the performance and tug what I can from it. And, surprise, surprise, I'm getting more out of these experiences than I used to.
I review as a lay person who can write. I am not a professional theatre person. I am certainly not a visual artist, yet I've reviewed a few art exhibitions recently (for example, here and here) and found it deeply rewarding. Having to respond in words to a wordless artform is a challenge, and it's enriching. (It needs to be, it's not exactly well-paid!)
Reviewing books is, of course, a bit closer to home territory. Here I am quite conscious that I would like to do unto others as I'd like people to do to me. I know what it feels like to have a reviewer fail to understand the text I have slaved over for years. I consider it my duty to look for what is admirable, what is there to be appreciated, what the writer does best.
The bottom line is that I love getting involved in conversations about the arts and I revel in having the opportunity to enthuse, in public, about the pleasure I have found in an exhibition or a book or an event. I guess that makes me a rubbish critic. Tough. I don't want to be negative reviewer. I'll point out a weakness if I think it stands out and I'll question something if it really furrows my brow. But on the whole, I am more interested in appreciative enquiry than criticism. I have no time for slagging things off. If something is so awful there's nothing good to say, I won't review it. I won't waste my time, or yours.