March has been a month of eye opening workshops. Following the success of my intellectual disabilities workshop, I was given another usual request: to teach critiquing skills to young people taking part in the Waterford Young Arts Critics Scheme.
In this scheme, 15-18 year olds are given the opportunity to critique various pieces of art. They’ve attended performances and written about them on their blog. They’ve also been given an insight into a different artistic discipline every month, in the run up to a talk given by art critic Gemma Tipton during the Waterford Writers’ Weekend about why the role of a critic matters.
March was the month for creative writing and I was chosen to deliver two workshops, lasting two hours each. I could take any approach I wanted, as long as it tied into the theme of the talk. I decided to give the young people an introduction to creative writing techniques and to explore the importance of a critic to both writers and readers.
The Craft of Writing
Five young people turned up at Waterford’s Central Library for the workshops. For my first workshop, I concentrated on creative writing techniques.
I outlined the main ingredients of storytelling: plot, character, setting and the use of the senses. I gave them handouts covering the main points. Then they did writing activities so they could try out the techniques for themselves. This would give them an idea of what to look out for when they’re reviewing a piece of writing.
Critiquing for Readers and Writers
For the second workshop, the young people put their knowledge of these techniques to the test by writing book reviews of their own. In acknowledgement of the fact that not all of them are readers, I widened the scope so they could write about films or TV series, as long as they concentrated on the storytelling aspects of the medium.
After they read their reviews, we discussed the role that reviews play in helping readers choose books. It turned out that the young people often used reviews to help them decide what books to read. I then outlined a critiquing system called the Liz Lerman method, used by arts practitioners to give each other constructive feedback in workshop situations and we discussed the value of this critiquing method for writers.
Displaying Critiquing Skills
After that, it was time for the young people to put their critiquing skills to the test. I had brought in a piece of my own work and stressed that because I had written it quite a whole ago, they could feel free to say anything they wished. They also had the opportunity to review their own reviews and give each other feedback. We finished the session with another creative writing activity, which gave them the opportunity to let off steam after all that heavy analysis.
The young people demonstrated professionalism, thoroughness and flair in their reviews. I felt that their efforts deserved to be acknowledged, so I gave out what I called a Critic’s Pen Award for the best review. I gave it to a reviewer who exacted exquisite revenge on her teachers for forcing her to read The Princess Bride by William Golding.
What about you? Do you think critics are watchdogs for standards in the arts? Or are they simply being paid to grumble?