The 350 word limit for print reviews is a blessing and a curse. Personally I love a nice word limit. Gives me something to aim for. It discourages verbosity and favours the epigrammatic. In other, better words, you have to get to the point, make it and move on.
There are other advantages too. 350 words is not much: any writer worth their salt should be able to write 350 words about the inside of a ping pong ball without too much effort. So a concert provides more than enough material. Indeed, it’s inevitable that you have to leave something out, and that can be quite a relief. “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all…” Saying nothing is not an option , but I personally don’t think it is craven to pass straight over a worthy but boring performance in favour of a more interesting work.
The disadvantage of the 350 word-limit is, of course, that it makes a review what it is. It’s not an essay, not an analysis, not a searching dissection of art. It is no more and no less than a personal response, hopefully informed and well-written but essentially ephemeral. Which, for an artist who has worked at his craft for decades, and is laying his or her soul out on the stage for all to see, sucks. 350 words is an insult, a trifling pat on the back of cultural endeavour, given undue importance because it appears in print.
So what’s the answer? More column inches? That’s not going to happen any time soon. More online reviewing? True, there is no word limit on a blog post… But there is also no guaranteed readership and, not insignificantly for those who earn their crust at the keyboard, no pay. Personally, I’m fascinated but terrified by the lack of boundaries in the blogosphere – no deadline, no word limit, nothing to make me actually stop writing, or start, for that matter.
I’m going to “L’Ormindo” tonight and I hope to write a few words about it. If they’re worth reading I’ll post them here. But can I write more than 350?