criticism criticised

Contemporary and Old Art Reviews

criticism criticised

Postby wwr » Wed Jan 09, 2013 6:39 pm

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Re: criticism criticised

Postby CAP » Thu Jan 10, 2013 12:04 am

Not that there are that many hatchet jobs on WWR by my reckoning - Ribbeck and Ackermann spring to mind, Bjerger? I thought that was a gentle corrective really. Gallo? a more general complaint about American painting, largely misunderstood I think. But I thought I'd gone fairly easy on Hamilton, Hockney, Katz, Ayres, Plessen.... Was I harsh on Doig or Ofili? I thought they were fairly measured assessments. Who wants to pretend everything's always perfect anyway?

The trouble with Jones is he has no taste and so appraisals swing arbitrarily between slobbering and slagging, indulging and condemning, amount to no more than whims of temperament. But it's not really a question of being in a kind or cruel mood. Proper criticism is about applying some sort of standard and arguing for the outcome, whether favourable or unfavourable to an artist. I don't know anyone who writes criticism just because they're in a good or bad mood. Mostly it takes so long to do it properly moods come and go anyway. But then that's why Jones writes for The Grauniad and is such a shit critic. :evil:
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Re: criticism criticised

Postby jasperjoffe » Thu Jan 10, 2013 1:24 am

Agree don't think wwr hatchety, but agree with JONES too that art reviews need to be more direct and critical. Most reviews are just descriptive... Usually of the press release
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Re: criticism criticised

Postby CAP » Fri Jan 11, 2013 12:44 pm

A couple of things worth adding -

1) There is something mealy mouthed or grovelling about a lot of online ‘art writing’ – so-called criticism. It’s something I’ve come across quite a bit and toyed with bringing up in my review of the Brooklyn Rail survey of American art critics (which has picked up a surprising amount of hits, for an Art News item, BTW – too bad no thread ensued). Even something like Garageland shrinks a little from anything too negative – oooh mustn’t offend anyone! But of course that only ends up offending critics, boring readers. They don’t keep or make friends that way, they just lose credibility. Too many of these little sites are just trying to be too nice. Recently I submitted my review of Artforum’s 50th Anniversary issue to an obscure artist-run site requesting submissions – it’s not exactly open-source like WWR, they vet stuff before publishing. Basically they were just looking for more content because they’d run out of current items. There's no need to name names here. The point is an excessive caution on even the most minor or obscure sites.

Anyway I thought it was a worthy project, opening up the dialogue and all that and I had stuff they were welcome to. All the same, I was hesitant because almost all of the articles on their site were just puffs for recent shows by their mates or at their galleries, or else fairly arid stuff about artist’s copyright and royalties, etc. Although my piece was a bit more incisive, I calculated its target was a remote American publication after all, so would hardly offend local loyalties. After a couple of weeks someone unmentioned anywhere on the site wrote back saying yes he’d submitted my item to their panel and they’d accepted it and would publish it shortly. But after a couple more weeks with no show, I emailed him and asked what’s up? (let’s face it, web publication is basically a matter of minutes). The palpably evasive answer was that there were back-end problems with the site and publication of my piece had been slightly delayed. The site looked fine – well, as fine as it had to start with. And a month later there’s still no sign and frankly since the whole thing was for free I’m not too fussed. But thinking about why they’re suddenly reluctant to publish, I can only think it’s because the article calls Artforum on its editorial and this is somehow not in this little site’s interests.

But it’s not in their interests to de-fang criticism either; something way too many art sites need to heed. We agree on this. If you’re not going to say what’s bad, you’re obviously not going to be able to say what’s good, and this is most certainly not in their interests. The main argument against evaluative criticism is usually descriptive criticism. Rather than just say that something is good or bad, you must say in what way, or under what category a work succeeds or fails and the critic under this approach duly describes the work’s style and influences, statement, themes and expression. But really, this ought to be on the way to saying whether it succeeds or fails under such placement, whether it’s good or bad on these terms but often the critic can’t quite bring themselves to bite the bullet and what we’re left with is half the job. Description in itself is not enough, just as bald evaluation is not enough.

The other part of the problem here is that people are trying to write about art when they are not actually very good writers. They may read a lot of press reviews and catalogue notes and think they’ve got the hang of it, but there’s a bit more to it. I’m not talking about the basics of journalism – I never bothered with those little structural things either, what the first and last paragraphs do and all that – although I have old friends who have fared quite well on Fleet Street by them – I’m just talking about the nuts and bolts of clean prose and précis writing. It actually takes just as much discipline as learning to draw or carve. But in this age of frantic entrepreneurial bravado, artists are in a hurry to do it all themselves, to promote themselves recklessly and to control the discourse or interpretation at all costs, to get there on sheer hustle. And it never works, for long. Their promotions are eventually unconvincing, their charm no more than distraction, the critical dialogue utterly vapid for their policing. Could name some big names here… They argue that they’re only protecting their sales potential, their collectability but mostly this is bullshit. If the stuff is any good it has to draw flak - by definition - ruffle a few feathers. But no, they want to be nice about it and pretend that some other artist is not losing out in all this. Some dealers would beg to differ I know, but mostly it’s just insecurity – the work is usually good enough to survive a naked or cold assessment – and for proper reasons - but they just can’t face the risk.

2) In the old days criticism supposedly observed a sort of rule on vulnerability, whereby they went easy on young artists or newcomers, gave them the benefit of the doubt for a few shows, while established artists at some point were fair game for more stringent assessment. In this way there was a kind of cycle of approval/disapproval that, to the superficial, looked no more than fashion. First we loved them, then after a time we loathed them. I suspect Jones has something like this in mind when he advocates taking the chainsaw to the reputations of the YBAs, who are now middle-aged and sufficiently established to withstand stark reappraisal. But you can’t really tear down key figures without having something to replace them with. The cycle only really works if you’re promoting the younger generation while deploring the older one. It’s not clear who Jones wants to replace Damian Hirst or Fiona Rae with. And from what I can see Goldsmiths doesn’t have much in the wings. At the same time the London scene is remarkably resilient, given the economic climate. I’ve recently learned something about the dubious underpinnings for this, but let’s not digress. The fact is the likes of Gagosian and Zwirner have invested heavily in the scene and with that I suspect a lot more foreign artists will be targeting London as well. There are a lot already on the books of most London galleries I know. But I’m thinking more might start to live here, and it’s possibly from these swelling ranks that the next Big Thing will emerge. I’m thinking Paris 1900-10 basically.

Lastly, going back to criticism, another old fashioned axiom, sometimes called the laudatory policy, maintained the traditional tact of if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. There is surely no more damning judgement of a show than ignoring it. But this can also lead the reader to assume the critic is indiscriminately enthusiastic, even where care is taken in description of genre, style, theme and so on. The reader may simply be unaware of shows shunned. The laudatory policy sounds good, and I admit I tend to follow it by inclination – I find it easier to write about art I like – but on a regular basis may have a bit of a deadening effect. The reader, as much as artist, dealer or collector, needs to be reminded what’s bad and why, from time to time. On this, I think I can find common ground with Jones, even though I detest the man. :twisted:
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Re: criticism criticised

Postby CAP » Sun Jan 20, 2013 5:57 am

Now Sir Roy Strong is sniping from his garden shed. :P
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