Sunday, January 25, 2009


>John Adamian:

Spring 2009: Tuesdays 6:50 – 9:30 p.m. Emma Hart Willard Hall 214

Office Hours: By appointment.

This course is designed to give students a broad understanding of contemporary American arts journalism – including blogging, lists, profiles, reviews, previews, Q & As, larger wide-ranging pieces, and blurbs. The readings represent a wide range of styles, tones, genres and approaches, from pedestrian to academic, from off-the-cuff blog posts to deeply researched pieces.

We’ll spend time considering the following: what it means to be a critic or an arts writer; what the reader expects or hopes to get from a piece of arts journalism; what background information is crucial; what can be left out; how best to begin a piece of writing; how best to end one. We’ll consider the challenges of writing on subjects about which we might have only limited knowledge or expertise. The class will also focus on the pitfalls of needlessly overselling a subject; the difficulties of crafting a negative review; the importance of keeping the writer out of a review, and when to ignore such rules of thumb. Tone, voice, style and attitude will all be discussed.

Final grades will be given based on the following:

Blogging : 20 percent

Quizzes: 20 percent

Writing: 40 percent

Class participation: 20, attendance, discussion

Extra credit: there will be opportunities for extra credit

Blogging: Each student will be required to setup a blogging account and a personal blog for the class. Every blog will include links to all of the other blogs in the class. Students will be required to make two posts a week, comment on two other class blogs per week. Posts can be about books, movies, restaurants, art, concerts, records, other blogs, newspapers, web sites, magazines, dance, theater, poetry readings, etc. Posts and comments can be any length.

Quizzes on the reading will be given at irregular intervals.

Readings: You should bring a printout of each week’s reading to class.

(All of the readings for this class are available online. You will need to complete a free registration at some the sites in order access the articles.) Schedule is subject to change.

Writing: You will write a preview, write reviews, conduct interviews and edit. You will do a short Q and A with an artist (or an arts journalist) and create pitches for story ideas. We’ll consider other forms as well. Paper copies of writing assignments should be brought to class, and Word files should be e-mailed to me. Assignments are subject to change.

Plagiarism: If you copy someone else’s work, copy and paste without attribution, or otherwise misappropriate information, you will be given a failing grade. You should be aware of the honor code and ask questions whenever you are in doubt. You may have new questions regarding the appropriate use of the ideas and work of others. Remember that questions asked in class may help other students.

Readings: (to be completed by class date listed)

Feb. 3: Set up your blog. Read the following (your blog posts can be on the readings, but they don’t have to be). Go out to eat – anywhere – and write a review (between 500 and 600 words). Describe setting, service, food, and whatever else jumps out at you.

Ann Powers on urban bushwhackers (LA Times):

Chris Benfey book review (New York Times Book Review)

Bill Buford (New Yorker)

Tables for Two (New Yorker)

Feb 10: Come to class with an arts event occurring in CT during the month of March – a concert, exhibit, play, reading, dance, etc. – that you’d like to preview.

Readings for Feb 10: (the pan/take-down)

Sasha Frere-Jones on Coldplay

Ratliff on Kenny G

Cintra Wilson on Robby Benson

Keiller on melancholy

A.O. Scott on Wild Hogs

Klosterman on GNR

Anthony Lane on Mama Mia!

Feb17: High Concept: Come to class with an event (concert, exhibit, reading, play, show, dance, etc.) occurring between Feb 18 and March 31 that you’d like to attend and review. (You’ll be expected to pay for your admission.)

David Foster Wallace on lobsters (Gourmet)

Gopnik on abridgements and DVD commentary (New Yorker)

Washington Post Joshua Bell

Feb 24: Social-Networking as Entertainment and the Q & A. Come to class with an idea for an artist (choreographer, actor, writer, musician, etc.) you'd like to do a Q & A with.

New York Times Mag Twitter:

Deborah Solomon and David Lynch

Believer interview with Steven Soderbergh

Jon Stewart in Hartford Advocate

March 3: Finding Your Subject

Virginia Heffernan


YouTube professors


March 10: Blogs, web-only writing and the art of pitching a story idea

Salon, Slate, Stuff White People Like, Perez Hilton, Pitchfork, Moistworks, The Sartorialist (fashion) etc.

March 17: Meta-Media

Hirschorn on quirk

Hirschorn on papers

Menand on Village Voice (download PDF)

March 24: Going Academic

Menand on Timothy Leary

Leonard book review from Harpers:

Obrien on Anthology of American Folk Music

(I couldn't figure out how to solve the annoying formatting problem on this one, but I e-mailed a version to you all.)

David Gates book review in Newsweek

March 24: Spring Break

March 31: The Profile

Sly Stone Vanity Fair

NYT mag cocorosie

Jeff Koons profile in New Yorker

April 7: Left Field

Chuck Klosterman on Guns N Roses (NY Times Mag):

Or, if that doesn't work, try this link to the same piece, The Pretenders.

Trillin on fish in New Yorker

Wired on Kurzweil

Cintra Wilson

April 14: Low Culture/Freaks and Geeks

Menand on Comics Scare



April 21: The Brits and others

Deborah Ross

French critics

Toby Young:

April 28: Stunts

Julia Child



May 5: Serious Business – the book review as cultural history

Luc Sante on Boogaloo (NY Review of Books)

May 12: Taste

Slate on Billy Joel

Klosterman on Billy Joel

NYT on Rockism

New Yorker on Whiteness in Indie rock

Things to Keep in Mind as You Write For This Class (and in General):

How much background information you’re providing on your subject.

Be aware of when you’re writing in the first person. Be aware of when your experience and your life are entering your writing. Make sure it’s necessary.

Word choice: pay attention to your verbs. Avoid adverbs when possible. Don’t be long-winded. Don’t be a smarty-pants. Bigger, less well-known words are usually not better than more familiar words. Kill your darlings: if you’re overly fond of a particular phrase, passage, section, word, you may want to consider whether it’s over the top, unnecessary, pretentious or condescending.

Vary sentence structure and length.

(With the exception of articles, pronouns, prepositions and conjunctions) avoid the repetition of words in sentences, paragraphs and throughout a whole piece if possible. Don’t create worse problems of awkward phrasing when trying to avoid this situation.

Pay special attention to your opening sentences. Pay special attention to your closing sentences. Pay attention to everything in between.

Resist the urge to make grand sweeping statements at the conclusion of your pieces.

If you’ve done an interview for a story, it’s rarely a bad idea to end with the voice your subject (in a quote) as the final bit of a piece.

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