Writing for Arts

So you want to write for arts! You may have already read over the writing basics, and you want some more in-depth guidance on arts-writing. Here’s our take on it.


The arts review

The arts section is mostly about reviews. We cover movies, music, theatre, literature, art exhibits, talent shows, dance, comedy, fashion, and other artistic events. At UTM, that includes the Blackwood Gallery, the Rhythm dance team, the Style and Profyle fashion show, ArtsFest, and Theatre Erindale, and we also branch out to external sources, like TIFF, when they relate to UTM students.

The ideal review is a blend of two different personalities. One is the critic, the one who asks how good a piece of art is, whether it does what it sets out to do, whether what it sets out to do is unique, whether it’s worth the reader’s money, and so on. The other is the viewer (hey, that’s an anagram of “review”). This is the one who describes what it’s like to be there, what the effect is, whether it was emotionally interesting. These two aspects don’t always line up. We’ve all seen movies we know are downright bad, but are hilarious to watch with friends.


Tone and criticism

As the critic, you need to be fair and firm. You have no obligation to praise anyone if you don’t believe they’re much good. Your reader can tell if you’re faking it, whereas reserving praise often adds to your credibility. On the other hand, never be negative for the sake of being negative. Keep in mind that much of the art you will cover is student art, and budding young students can’t always be held to the same standards as professionals. Look for potential just as much as for success.

This applies to you too, of course. You might worry that you’re not an expert in what you’re reviewing. Don’t worry—no student is. Review what you’re experienced in, and talk about what you know. It’s better to stick to what you know you can say than to strain to prove that you know everything about the technique or history of an art form. If you’re reviewing a new album by Drake and you want to situate his work in the context of rap, it’s enough to compare it to the other rappers you listen to.


Details and interviews

Approach the art from multiple angles. A play is the combination of writing, staging, acting, set design, and more, so think about how each element contributes to the whole. Try to work in a certain amount of background on the artist or the piece of art. For a musician, you could mention an album or two out of their discography or an artist who has informed their style. For a movie, you could talk about the genre or the director’s particular style. And so on.

That also raises the question of interviews. The arts section doesn’t have a history of doing very many, but it can certainly be done properly. If you review an installation in the Blackwood Gallery, you could ask the artist or the curator about the piece. Remember that you want to say something the reader can’t guess on their own. Try to ask for factual personal questions, not loose interpretations. An example of a bad question is, “What does this piece really mean?” A better question might be, “What gave you the idea to make this?”


Style and editing

The style of an arts article is generally looser than news, but not quite as casual as features. Your tone can include the first-person “I” if you want to focus on your personal experience, which could be more appropriate for a musical coffeehouse than an album. Puns are appropriate, but excess puns are never in good taste. Similarly, the form of an arts article isn’t rigid. Although you should structure it in a way that keeps the reader interested while you go from point to point, and include an introduction and summary, there’s no particular order in which you need to mention things. Do be specific and not vague; state examples, not generalities.

Don’t forget to add a star rating out of five if it’s a review of something released to the general public, like an album or movie. We’ll format it for you, so just type it out.

When you’re done, send it to the arts editor (arts@themedium.ca) for editing!

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