Students Become Arts Critics

By Pamela Hill Nettleton

Students perform onstage at the Helfaer Theatre, Marquette University

Students perform onstage at the Helfaer Theatre, Marquette University

Students in my Critical Writing About the Arts course travel out into the city to watch ballet rehearsals, interview symphony soloists, tour backstage at the opera—and then return later to watch and review the polished performances.

This semester, we’ve visited and reviewed visual arts at the Haggerty Museum on campus, a play at the Helfaer Theatre on campus, the Milwaukee Symphony, the Milwaukee Ballet, and the Skylight Opera so far. We are about to visit Milwaukee Magazine to speak with dining critic and food writer Ann Christenson before dining at Coquette Café and reviewing the French food there—and we have a film to view and critique before the semester ends.

It’s a wonderfully fun course, for me as well as for the students. We attend events together and sit together as a group. Audiences are sometimes intrigued by 16 students feverishly scribbling onto notepads in the dark. I enjoy seeing the arts through their eyes.

The course is about writing, and writing with a critical point of view, but more than writing happens here. Often for the first time, students are sitting in front of an orchestra or sitting on the floor of a ballet studio or walking through an art gallery or trying to figure out how to pry escargot out of its shell at a French bistro—and these exposures to how art interacts with and comments upon life is significant for each of them.

So much of their work this semester has been at a high caliber—especially considering that they are often writing about the very first performance or event of its kind that they’ve witnessed.

Look for examples of student reviews on the Communic8 blog in coming weeks.

Pamela Hill Nettleton is an assistant professor in the Diederich College of Communication. She teaches magazine, journalism, and media studies courses. Her research centers on masculinity in the media.

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The opinions expressed here are those of the individual authors and do not represent the views of Marquette University or the Diederich College of Communication.

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