Performing Arts Critique
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Introduction to Fine Arts
Assignment: Observation 2 – Performing Arts Critique
Objective: Students will attend a live performance of artistic content outside of the classroom. Students will then reflect upon their experiences during the performance, and will write a 3 page (minimum) paper discussing their impressions and reactions to the work of art and the performers. When composing their responses, students will attempt to utilize the critical perspectives that are explained in the course textbook in Chapter 3.
Purpose: While filmed or recorded performances are certainly valuable, they cannot replace the experience of being present at a live performance. This assignment will allow students the opportunity to actively participate as an audience member during the presentation of artistic content by accomplished performers. Aspects of a performance, such as the interactive dynamic between performer and audience and the acoustic sensation of a performance space, can only be perceived in a live environment.
Performance Choice: Each student must attend a live performance of his/her choice. The performance must involve a generally recognized standard of artistic content. Some examples include: symphony orchestra concert; opera, light opera, or musical theater performance; choir concert*; ballet or modern dance performance; recital**; or theatrical performance of a play.
*The performance should be at a professional or near-professional level of artistry. For example, there are many varying levels of choir performances you could attend.
Some acceptable concerts could include:
Concert by a professional or semi-professional choral ensemble, for example, the Texas Choral Artists or the Dallas Symphony Chorale
Concert by a highly qualified amateur ensemble, for example, the DBU Chorale or Chamber Singers, or the Vocal Majority or RichTones Chorus
Not acceptable performances:
Concert by a school choir
Concert by church choir or praise & worship band
Performance observed at a walk-around festival or carnival, such as Plano Balloon Festival or State Fair of Texas
**Acceptable recitals include those given by senior-level vocal or instrumental performance majors attending DBU or other recognized schools of music, or those given by professionals.
REMEMBER: Your live performance choice does not have to be musical. Theatrical performances of plays are also acceptable and appropriate, as are dance performances.
NOTE: I realize that many students live on very tight budgets. However, the DFW area abounds with free or low-cost performances of various types. One reason for setting the due date for this assignment so late in the semester is to allow students the opportunity of attending one of the many free, on-campus performances presented by students in the DBU School of Music. Please don’t feel that you are required to spend money you don’t have in order to successfully complete this assignment.
Note: Students must attend the performance on their own time. Please provide proof of attendance in one of these ways:
• fax a copy of your ticket stub or program brochure to my attention at 214-333-5323 (Be sure to include your name on the fax or scan.)
• scan your stub or brochure and paste the image at the end of your paper
• send your scanned image as an attachment to a separate email
• take a photo of yourself at the performance venue and attach your selfie to the end of your paper (or send as a separate email) Be sure to obey any venue regulations regarding photography – and please remember that taking photos during a performance can be distracting to the performers and other audience members.
Preparing to Critique
• Review Chapters 2 and 3 to assist your memory of subject > form > content and participation, and the three types of criticism.
• Review the chapter that discusses the type of performance you have selected (for example, if you plan to attend a concert, review Chapter 9: Music).
• Take notes during the experience or immediately afterwards.
• Take time to reflect after the performance, but don’t wait too long before you begin to write your critique. Write while the experience is still fresh in your mind.
• Use the following guide as you structure your paper:
Part 1: Introduction
• Describe the situation – where you went, what you heard or saw, the name of the composer, conductor, performer(s), playwright, choreographer, etc. as appropriate. NOTE: you do not need to name all performers, just those with starring roles, solos, or who are otherwise significant. This information should not take up a large percentage of your paper.
• Discuss your initial impressions of the venue before the work began – try to address how the style or ambiance of the venue might have affected your participative experience.
• Explain why you chose this venue and performance. If you plan to critique a specific segment of the work, for example, one piece performed during a concert, explain why you chose that particular part to critique.
Part 2: Descriptive Criticism
• Focus on the form: How is the work put together, and what are its components? How does it achieve unity?
• Describe the medium, elements, style, and organization of the work.
• Discuss the production values – for example, were there elaborate set pieces or scenery, or was the stage bare? Did the performers wear costumes? Did the production make use of special effects?
• Discuss the subject matter – what is this work about?
• If you know anything about the historical context of the work, or if it would be important to know in order to understand the work, add this information. Remember: cite your sources, even if your source is the program you received when you entered the venue.
Part 3: Interpretive Criticism
• Focus on the content: What is the meaning of this work?
• Look for ways in which the subject matter is clarified or its deeper meaning is revealed through the artistic form.
• Try to determine what the artists or originators hoped to convey through the work of art. What did the performers convey?
• What did the work mean to you?
Part 4: Evaluative Criticism
• Focus on the worth: What are the relative merits of the work?
• Ask yourself the “so what?” question; i.e., look for the value of the work and its potential for enriching life and/or society.
• Discuss ways in which the work may, or may not, meet the three standards of evaluation:
o Perfection: Does the work possess a sense of perfection, unity, harmony, or intimacy?
o Insight: Does the work inform the viewer/listener in some way – could it make a difference to those who see or hear it? How?
o Inexhaustibility: Does this work resist monotony? Would you enjoy hearing or seeing it again?
• Some other questions you might consider (Note: it is not necessary to answer all of these questions):
o Has the work withstood the test of time? For how long?
o Is the work creative or original?
o Has the work influenced other artists, works, or styles?
o Is the appeal of this work limited to a local area or specific group or type of people, or does its appeal extend beyond geographic, political, or cultural boundaries?
Part 5: Conclusion
• Focus on your experience of the work: did this work grab and sustain your attention?
• Discuss what you may have gained (if anything) from your experience.
• If the work touched you in some personal way, share your feelings about your interaction with the work.
NOTE: Part of the assumption underlying this course is that an understanding or enjoyment of any given work of art is readily available to educated members of our culture. As a college student, you should already possess some understanding of society and its values that will help you approach any product of its culture. A detailed technical knowledge about the art form or medium is not essential for you to appreciate a work of art and learn from it. As your professor, I don’t expect you to write papers on the same level as someone who is pursuing a major in art, music, or theater. I DO expect your writing to show evidence of thought and careful consideration of the concepts presented in class and in the text, and I hope that you will approach the performance with an open and alert mind. It is my hope that this experience will be enjoyable for you and open your eyes to the possibility of additional and repeated participation with the arts.
Although I will not expect your paper to match professional arts criticism, I do expect accurate use of the English language. Please make use of spell-check and grammar-check programs, but don’t rely on them completely. If you are unsure of a word and its proper use, look it up in a dictionary. Be sure to proof-read your paper before you turn it in.
You will not be graded on the accuracy of your artistic interpretation, for I recognize that you do not have the tools or experience to engage in scholarly criticism. Nonetheless, a thoughtful, literate paper will generate a better grade than a hasty, ill-formed series of paragraphs. In my opinion, a good, sincere effort is worthy of a good grade. You will receive at least some credit just for going and trying. It is my hope, especially if you are trying this for the first time, that you will discover that you actually enjoy participating in the arts. Perhaps this assignment will open avenues in your experience for future engagement with the arts.