UCL Faculty of Arts & Humanities


How to be a critic

Rachel Aroesti, led an open to all masterclass around 'How to be a critic' and a follow up workshop focussing on 'How to write criticism'.

Lead Speaker: Rachel Aroesti

Rachel Aroesti is a freelance journalist who writes about music, television, comedy, film, podcasts, radio and internet culture. Previously, she worked as an editor on The Guide, The Guardian's Saturday culture supplement.

Open Event - How to be a critic: a masterclass with Rachel Aroesti

From June 2021

Restaurant star ratings; in-depth album reviews; Twitter threads on the latest film releases: many of us are both consumers and producers of content about what we buy, where we visit and how we live. But what does it take to build a career in journalistic criticism?

The event will cover: the role, requirements and responsibilities of the modern newspaper critic; guidance on writing and pitching good criticism; insight into the realities of being a professional critic.

This 2hr talk and Q&A session shared insights into the working practices of critics, the requirements and standards of professional criticism and get them thinking about the issues critics face and the purpose and importance of their job. 


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Interactive Workshop - How to write criticism

Lead speaker: Rachel Aroesti

From June 2021

Students were given a list of four or five cultural objects (for example, a musical release, a film, a recent book, a TV show). Students then chose one of these and wrote a review/piece of criticism of a set length with a particular publishing outlet/context in mind.

The workshop consisted of individual feedback on the criticism submitted and group discussion on issues and ideas raised during feedback. Topics included: reader and editor expectations, writing style and technique, tone and register.

This session provided students with detailed and specific feedback on their writing, similar to the type a newspaper or magazine editor would give if they had been commissioned to write an article. It also provided advice tailored to their individual interests and give them detailed and practical tips on how to elevate their writing to a professional standard. 

Short-course Testimonial

Catheryne Kelly 

The 'How to be a Critic' course provided an eye-opening and honest insight into the world of criticism. It was invaluable to have the opportunity to practice writing my own criticism after Rachel's masterclass, which not only imparted useful insider tips, but soon allayed any feelings of intimidation at the task of critiquing the work of professional artists as a relatively unexperienced undergraduate. I benefited from detailed and personalised feedback on the piece that I had written for the workshop, which I will keep in mind moving forward. Overall, a very informative and enjoyable experience, thank you to Rachel and to everyone involved in organising the course. 

Short-course Output

Catheryne Kelly 

Exhibition Review: David Hockney: ‘The Arrival of Spring, Normandy 2020’

In a world of endless Zoom calls and gaudy NFTs you’d certainly be excused for despairing at the thought of mashups between art and tech right now. Yet before all faith is lost, let David Hockney’s latest show retrieve you from the depths of digital apathy. Rest easy, it’s all familiar territory - pulling from his well-loved bag of tricks, he delivers another wonderstruck interrogation of the natural world in that trademark, hedonistic colour scheme from the comfort of his home in Normandy and the convenience of his iPad.  

Hockney lovingly strains every drop out of last years’ spring season and, as prolifically as ever, captures every natural variance from the end of winter to the cusp of summer 
with over one hundred near-daily depictions. Something of the French touch is allowed to suffuse the work of this Yorkshireman. Perhaps it’s his proximity to Giverny, or his practice en plein air, but the spirit of Monet’s waterlilies breathes life into his own while Van Gogh’s stark French hills and almond blossoms provide further impressionistic inspiration. Had either of these virtuosos access to such tech in their day, they’d be hard-pushed to supplant the feats achieved by Hockney during the start of the pandemic.  

The whole project was completed on the Brushes app, which afforded the artist the mobility to work quickly and flexibly, with the option to add or delete layers immediately at his disposal. For the viewer, the gradations of depth and texture created, while relatively inconsistent, are astounding at best and render his work almost convincingly ‘painterly’ despite its origins. Unsurprisingly however, the method has its flaws, but this doesn’t mean that Hockney’s exuding charm is totally compromised. Upon close inspection, expect to see distortions and the odd rogue splodge of acidic green where the work’s translation onto canvas has failed. Yet these inaccuracies are playfully embraced, and it is Hockney’s inclusion of imperfection that plays into a lovable, rough childishness and buoyant optimism that colours the lens through which he projects the natural world.  

For all his success in wielding the form, it does suffer from one mountainesque stumbling block in the face of today’s audiences; its lack of immediacy. While nothing can beat a canvas painted ‘old-school’, of course, the real issue is that now more so than ever, we’re hyper-aware of the extent to which the outside world is fed to us via our screens. We’ve been craving direct, unmediated experiences since March last year. In its defence, Hockney’s technological intermediary is entirely a product of our time, and what’s important is that from this abstracted position he has created something that sports the hope of spring sunrises as its essence. It’s medicine for the soul. Hockney’s work is a forward-facing gesture from the current state of our present, a call from obscurity to an imagined future - a brighter world.  

Star rating (out of five): ★★★★ 
See it at the Royal Academy until 26th September.  


Short-course Output

Review: Colors and Light by Sally Rooney           Rating: ★★★★☆ 

'If you've ever been so fed up with human interaction that you had the urge to abandon society and go live in the words — then decided it wasn't worth it after about thirty seconds of serious consideration — Sally Rooney has you covered. Rooney has a number of literary hits under her belt, like Conversations with Friends and Normal People, which was adapted into a television show by the BBC in 2020. The short story Color and Light fits right in with her portfolio: flawed, normal, very human characters; mundane interpersonal conflict that manages not to be boring; and a lack of a clear resolution. The story chronicles the brief but tense relationship –– if it can be called that –– between Aidan, a hotel clerk, and Pauline, a charismatic but often drunk screenwriter from out of town. In snapshots, scenes spread over weeks with no connective tissue, Aidan and Pauline bump into one another over and over, and in each interaction there is a subtle friction: Does she like me? Do I like her? Does she care? Who is she? And of course, as Pauline asks, “why do we do things that we don’t really want to do?” 

Aidan and Pauline’s contact is short-lived, like the fireworks they watch together on the boardwalk, colors and light against a night background, leaving the viewer wondering whether something so ephemeral meant anything in the first place –– and if so, what? Aidan and Pauline never become a couple, but they seem to be attracted to one another. To me, the story is fundamentally asking whether forming those sorts of human bonds is even worth it. The characters are all wrapped up in this ambiguity, which is extended in Rooney’s plain diction and syntax, along with her refusal to use quotation marks around dialogue; these stylistic choices immerse the reader in the perspective character Aidan’s head, blurring the lines between his thoughts and his surroundings, while leaving some mystique and intrigue, space for the reader to fill in the gaps of all he doesn’t say.  

Overall, I enjoyed this piece –– Rooney’s opaquely efficient writing and the odd connection between the two main characters kept me reading, and beneath the tactile surface of the text lay a tangled web of questions and tensions. Still, the story’s brevity prevented the reader from really getting to know any of the characters but Aidan, and it hampered any sense of character growth or change, meaning the work ended up being more about ideas than character, which might turn off some readers. The ending left me with a sense of dissatisfaction –– what happened? What was the point? But of course, that was the point. Our connections with each other are often brief, and confusing, and they end when they become inconvenient. The point is this: we can choose what mark they leave on us'.