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The value of the imprimatur

September 30, 2009

In the October issue of Limelight, conductor-composer Guy Noble has written about that Washington Post experiment in which renowned violinist, Joshua Bell, busked in downtown Washington. Only one person recognised him. No-one else showed much interest and he ended with the princely sum of  a little over $30, $20 of which came from the person who recognised him and felt sorry that he’d been reduced to busking! The point of the experiment, says Noble, was to see how people would relate to fine art outside a fine art institution like a concert hall…and the answer, it appears, is not too well! In other words, it appears that we need the imprimatur of the concert hall, or art gallery, etc, to have confidence in the quality of what we are hearing or seeing.

Image from Clker.Com (Public Domain Clip Art)

Image from Clker.Com (Public Domain Clip Art)

And this made me think of my Review Policy and the question I received regarding why I’ve said that I don’t read self-published works. My answer was that “a book that is ‘formally’ published has gone through some external (to the author) selection and editing process which implies that some sort of standard has been met”. Clearly, I too need the imprimatur of some sort of authority!

Guy Noble concludes his article with the question: “If anyone can record music and anyone can publish themselves on YouTube, who is going to decide for us who is good or not?” My answer is another question: Do we need the imprimatur because we lack confidence in our ability to discern quality, or because in our time-poor world we like to outsource the first stage of the selection process? I like to think it is the latter … but fear it is more often the former. Whatever the reason, the resultant risk is that new “artists” can get lost in the mix. However, I’m sorry to say that this is not going to make me change my review policy! Time is, in the end, too short!

4 Comments leave one →
  1. October 1, 2009 1:45 pm

    Yes, I have the same caveat in my review policy, based on my experience with self-published novels and children’s books. (I’ve actually self-published a series of teacher resource books myself, but that’s different: Indonesian language teaching is a niche market and commercial publishers weren’t interested.) It’s a busy world, and I’ve learned to trust (and distrust) various publishing houses so that I can feel fairly confident about how I spend my precious reading time.

  2. whisperinggums permalink*
    October 1, 2009 2:40 pm

    Oh yes, self-publishing in the professional area is a different thing and perfectly understandable. And not the sort of thing we’d be reviewing anyhow.

  3. October 4, 2009 5:36 pm

    I read your review policy – very good, perhaps I need to do something similar but probably publishers will still besiege me with emails encouraging me to read books about teenage witches.

    I agree with you about self-published books. I’ve accepted one or two only to feel guilty about never publishing a review of them.

    On imprimatur – yes, but perhaps not in terms of music? YouTube has enabled some very talented people to buy pass the music establishment to gain an audience.

  4. whisperinggums permalink*
    October 4, 2009 8:36 pm

    You’re not interested in teenage witches? What’s wrong with you? LOL!

    Re imprimatur, I suspect that as “self-publishing” on the internet becomes a bigger thing the role of the “imprimatur” might change BUT I have to say the whole YouTube thing is overwhelming. So much out there that while I occasionally find something on my own, most of what I look at/see are things I already know about (ie have some sort of imprimatur) or someone I respect has pointed me too (and so they are the imprimatur). It’s complicated though isn’t it?

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