JMSC Appoints Critic in Residence

Thanks to the generous support of Muse Magazine and its determination to improve arts and cultural coverage in Hong Kong, a prominent critic and journalist with international experience will become the JMSC’s first Critic-in-Residence.

Christian Caryl, a contributing editor at Foreign Policy and Newsweek and a regular contributor to The New York Review of Books, will arrive in Hong Kong in mid-January to take up his four-month residency and teach a graduate course on writing criticism about the arts.

Caryl, who for five years also was based in Tokyo as chief of the Northeast Asia bureau of Newsweek, was appointed Muse Magazine Critic-in-Residence after a lengthy search that attracted several dozen candidates from around the world.

His course, Critical Writing about the Arts, will be held on Thursday evenings. The first session is scheduled for January 21 in the Digital Media Lab. Caryl said he aims to help JMSC students “enlarge their journalistic toolboxes.”

“Writing criticism offers an excellent opportunity to sharpen one’s powers of description and analysis – we’ll be practising both,” he added in an e-mail. “The things that critics write about are often slippery; but if the critic ends up writing about them that way, his or her work has failed.”

As part of his residency, Caryl also will build bridges to the Hong Kong arts and culture community. His residency and teaching became possible thanks to Muse, which provides high-quality coverage of local arts and culture, and its publisher, Frank Proctor.

“Quality arts criticism is a crucial building block in a strong cultural environment, so it is essential for Hong Kong as it develops into a world cultural centre,” Proctor said.

“I hope the Critic-in-Residence Program will inspire more journalists to write critically about arts and culture, and to include arts criticism as a skill they want to develop,” he added.

Caryl was selected by a committee comprised of Proctor; Perry Lam, editorial director of Muse; Mark Clifford, executive director of the Asia Business Council and a former editor of the South China Morning Post; and Professor Ying Chan, JMSC director.

Caryl spent 13 years as a freelance journalist in Germany before becoming Moscow bureau chief for U.S. News & World Report and then Newsweek. After the World Trade Center attacks in New York City in September of 2001, he reported in Iraq and Afghanistan as part of Newsweek’s coverage of the war on terror.

“I’m lucky enough to have had a career as a full-service journalist – meaning that, in addition to writing about film and art, I’ve also spent plenty of time in the field, reporting about everything from war to finance to the workings of government,” Caryl said.

“That gives me a particular appreciation for what distinguishes good critical writing from other forms of journalism.”

Caryl said he hopes students who take his course learn “to appreciate criticism as a rigorous discipline that’s informed by expertise, reporting, and informed judgment.

“Good criticism is sharp, smart, entertaining, and often provocative; the worst criticism leaves its readers saying, ‘well, so what?’”

Caryl said that if students understand, by the end of the semester, what makes fine criticism distinctive – “and why we need more of it, these days more than ever – the course can be considered to have accomplished its goals.”

—-Gene Mustain