Coverage of Campus Arts Miserably Lacking

To the Editors:

I am writing concerning the lamentable state of the arts coverage in the Oberlin community, most notably in The Oberlin Review. As one of the most prolific young artistic communities in the country, Oberlin has an obligation to document and discuss — and not just advertise and promote — its artistic output. To provide such a forum, we must create a publication dedicated solely to the arts.
This publication, which should be a web-based Arts journal, will provide a meaningful record for those who dedicate themselves to their craft. And because the writing of these reviews would demand active student efforts to verbally describe the arts, this publication will further that which this College embodies perhaps most proudly: humanism through the enrichment and education of all perceptive senses. The demand for such a publication manifests itself three-fold.
At times, the lack of sufficient coverage in our publications is lamentable. Last Nov. 10, for example, Wendell Logan, one of the most influential professors in Oberlin’s history, the founder and chair of the formidable Jazz Studies department, a man who has, by sheer strength of will, defined and advanced the excellence of the Conservatory in the face of extraordinary adversity over the past 30 years, was honored in a concert that united alumni from around the globe. Over the course of three, the concert moved most everyone in the audience — and on stage — to both tears and exultation, and will stand as the most significant musical experience of this writer’s Oberlin career. It wasn’t covered by any printed publication.
But there are many events that go without coverage at Oberlin. It is unlikely that all of the nine senior art shows, 10 poetry readings, four plays, three dance concerts and 200 Conservatory concerts and countless other artistic events that will be presented over the course of the next month, for example, will be covered by our existing publications. We desperately need to discuss, describe, criticize, and document these events.
Even when events are addressed in our publications, however, the coverage is often quite poorly written, or inaccurate, or misinformed. Emily Strout’s article on this year’s Spring Back dance concert, published last week, was a classic example of well-intentioned inaccuracy: Endymion’s composer’s name is Blachly, not Blatchly, and I scored the piece for an eight member chorus, not 20, and my quote was cut-and-spliced without my permission.
Granted, these are rather petty complaints, and to quibble about such trivialities as my name belittles a more profound impediment towards excellent arts publication coverage. The real problem, after all, is not that Oberlin writers are incapable, but that those who have impressively developed their craft — and there are many such writers in this community — become quickly apathetic to journalistic writing, and few remain to fight the good fight.
But even if all the writing that went into this publication were not of the highest possible quality, the fact is that a breadth of perspectives from the many contributing voices would easily override any technical writing difficulties that are, after all, part and parcel of the process. It is implicit in this journalistic system that the emphasis is not so much on the finished product, but on the process of writing the review itself. In this light, Ms. Strout’s article on the Spring Back concert, while imperfect, is still an admirable effort, and her work demonstrates that there ARE writers in our community willing to work and informed in their discipline. Improving our journalism is not about a lack of talent, but a need to adequately motivate capable writers extant to fill the void. There are many ways to do so.
First, we should tap into strong pre-existing resources. In classes in the dance department, the art department, and the music composition department, students are required to attend and review productions and art openings and concerts over the course of the semester. Such assignments provide valuable practice for the training and fine-tuning of perceptive skills as well as rhetorical and critical techniques. Why not publish these reviews?
In recent months, there has been no small controversy about John Byrne’s fledgling and impressively created Muckraker. For all of its shortcomings, this publication assertively demonstrates the capacity of this college to produce and publish impressive writing. But the admirable efforts of these young writers should, instead of attempting to puppet the deplorable contemporary media sub-standards by falsely portraying dedicated college administrators in a negative light and vainly attempting to create hysteria, be directed constructively towards extensive arts coverage.
And most importantly, we can fill the void of arts coverage by insisting that the entire student body become involved. Along with other requirements designed to ensure a rich liberal arts education, writing reviews of concerts or exhibits or installations or recitals or lectures or, if so desired, sporting events, should be a required step towards commencement. Every undergraduate should be required to write, over the course of each academic year, five one-page reviews of some arts event that they attend.
Most members of this scholastic community actively attend performances already, and one page of response would be little to ask. Students would be compelled to submit something of some value, because the articles would be published (and therefore read by peers and professors), and to make these articles a requirement would remove the (understandable) stigma inherently attached to criticism of the arts (especially among active performing artists), creating, instead, a fertile forum for artistic response. And there is little doubt that the community — particularly Kendal — would get in on the action by enthusiastically contributing constructive responses.
Such a publication would fit in rather easily in Oberlin, definitively one of the warmest and well-informed artistic audiences in the world. Once established, it will be hard to imagine a time when this publication was not an integral part of the Oberlin experience. We will find this forum of unimaginable value to the institution as a documentation, description, and discussion of our fecund artistic creation, and the writing process will, for the students, prove a difficult, demanding, and enriching experience.

–James Blachly
College Senior

April 19
April 26

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