This class is for the novice, the experimenter, and the experienced alike. All that you need to join us is a powerful love for the arts—any art—and a desire to turn that appreciation into crafted, analytical writing. Learning to write cultural criticism amplifies not only your ability as a nonfiction essayist but as a human being in the world who appreciates creative works.
In this class we will read, we’ll look at art, we’ll listen to music, and then we will write. And write, and write. Assignments will be structured more like traditional college than a writing workshop, because that’s my teaching experience. You’ll produce small amounts of work regularly, which will build over time into one impeccably crafted piece (after edits from me and your classmates). Somewhere in there, your critical voice will emerge: by the end of the class, you’ll have one unshakeable review in your hand, on an artwork of your choice, and a new sensibility to take forward in life.
Week 1: Introductions. In-class discussion of personal goals. Close reading of criticism examples and discussion of the different traditions in the genre. What works and what doesn’t. Take-home assignment: write an appreciation of a recent artwork while avoiding cliché.
Week 2: Consideration of what it takes to write about music, art, or literature. Putting together arguments with appreciation. In-class argument workshop.
Week 3: Beginning to specialize: students choose their artwork. How to bring context and research into the review.
Week 4: Drafts due + “how to pitch.” Each writer presents their review as a pitch.
Week 5: Individual workshops instead of class.
Week 6: Final edits, reflection, and end-of-class readings.
- A watertight 1200-word review on a work of art of the writer’s choice, which will work as a clip for pitches.
- The confidence and skills to pitch review editors.
- The life-changing ability to see (or hear) with a critic’s reflexes.
Josephine Livingstone is the culture staff writer at the New Republic. She’s also written cultural criticism for the New Yorker online, The Awl, Bookforum, The Guardian, Art in America, and a lot of other places besides. She received the 2017 Newswomen's Club of New York Front Page Award for Opinion/Criticism. She holds a PhD from New York University (2015) in English, and edited websafe2k16.com. She has taught at NYU, Columbia, the New York Public Library, and lectured widely.
"Jo is the most generous, capable teacher I've had the pleasure of learning from, in addition to being one of the most brilliant thinkers I've encountered. She combines super smart current awareness with deep scholarship, grounded ethics and good humor. Her delightful and profound class was absolutely my favorite that I've ever taken. I've also seen her act as a committed, wise and knowledgeable mentor to other writers. Anyone would be lucky to take a class from Jo!"
"Working with Jo, I can tell you that she is impeccable at breaking through the fog and figuring out what the interesting kernel of any idea really is. She is scarily insightful about your writing process and always has good tips on how to improve, which she will give to you as lovingly as possible. "
"I really enjoyed having Jo as a TA. She is incredibly funny and lightens the mood greatly. She also made me feel very comfortable with speaking up in class even though I usually don't. Jo was very helpful with guiding my thoughts and not just giving me the ideas for papers or assignments. She really was one of the best TAs I've ever had for a class (if not the best), and I would take her section a million times over."
“I didn't think "close-reading" was something that could be taught because I've had other teachers who have tried and failed, but I finally understand/can do it and I'm extremely grateful!”