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Writing Reviews in the Visual and Performing Arts

Don’t let reviews of art exhibits, concerts, plays, or dance performances stump you! Be the artist of a carefully crafted review with these guidelines.

Before you begin

  • Review your syllabus. Are there any specific details that your instructor has asked you to notice or include? If so, be sure to make a note of them at the event.
  • Take detailed notes at the event. Don’t trust yourself to remember important parts of the event—write them down!
  • Make use of your event program. It can be a handy resource for important information.

As you write

  • Your review should give one clear, dominant impression of the work. What is your overall point of view regarding the experience? Communicate this idea up front in your introduction. The impression may draw from elements such as plot, character, theme, language, music, or sound.
  • Summarize in moderation. It’s important to let your readers know what happened, but they don’t need a play-by play account. The reader will be more interested in what you, the reviewer, thought about the event.
  • Use specific, concrete details to describe the work. Include important info like the date, time, and location of the event. Go beyond superficial description and discuss how the exhibit made you feel, what it reminded you of, or how it could have been changed.
  • Try to determine what the artists or performers intend for you to feel or think. Were they successful?
  •  Connect the work to the knowledge you are gaining in class and from your reading.

Consider asking these questions in a review 

  • What is the significance of the title of the work?
  • Who was the audience for this work? Did the work meet or exceed the audience’s expectations?
  • How did other elements (scenery, costumes, lighting, etc.) enhance or detract from the overall impression?
  • What were your favorite and least favorite parts of the work?
  • Did the work engage you from the beginning? If not, when did you start to become more directly involved?
  • Were there any significant problems with your experience? How could the performance have been improved?
  • Would you recommend this event? Why or why not?

Tying it all together

  • Conclude your review with a conclusion about the experience as a whole. What needs to be said about the event that you have not already said?
  • Read over your review. Make sure your comments throughout the paper match your overall impression of the work, as stated in your introduction and conclusion.
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