And sometimes it works.
A review can be an exercise in formula. It can borrow structure from other reviewers. It can use general categories of comment - how did the food taste? could you hear what the lead singer was saying? did the set design support the director's vision? - as a guide through the experience, suggesting things you should pay attention to.
When it comes to reviewing, we do not have to reinvent the wheel. We can use existing reviews as models. We can, of course, ignore models and come at the review stupendously, outrageously, in some quirky personal way your teacher has never imagined.
But sometimes we paint by the numbers in the sense of using an existing framework to contain your own fresh insights.
By the way, the Smithsonian Institute did an exhibit on paint by the numbers called Every Man a Rembrandt, concentrating on how this particular corner of the consumer market said something profound about American culture, and not necessarily a negative thing.
When in doubt about what to put in a review, answer the questions: What does the object of this review say about American culture? What does my reaction to it say about me? Those questions will allow you to paint outside the lines.
Friday, August 8, 2014
Reviewing Using a Checklist? Call it Cookie Cutter. Call it Paint by the Numbers.
J. Michael Robertson directs the journalism program in the Department of Media Studies at the University of San Francisco. He was an editor/staff writer at the San Francisco Chronicle, 1980-1991, and Atlanta Magazine, 1976-1980. He received a Ph.D. in English Literature from Duke University in 1972.
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