Brooklyn Rail - The State of Art Criticism

Brooklyn Rail - The State of Art Criticism

Postby CAP » Sun Dec 23, 2012 1:23 am

Currently there is an excellent selection of short essays on the state of art criticism @ Brooklyn Rail, under their ART SEEN category, although ART SEEN is not exclusively devoted to this issue. The list runs something like a who's who of American art criticism - Props to Brooklyn Rail - :)

ArtSeen >

The Diagnostic Essay by Alex Bacon
Everything That Matters by Daniel Baird
“Is There a Crisis in Art Criticism?”* Response from Marek Bartelik by Marek Bartelik
Dress Trope by Bill Berkson
Responses for Irving Sandler (A Later Seizure), November 21 by Bill Berkson
Re: Art Criticism Today by Robert Berlind
Dear Irving by Phong Bui
How it Appears by Jarrett Earnest
Post-Critical by Hal Foster
If Picasso Is So Sexy, Why Is No One On TV Talking About Art? by Christopher French
The Incredible Shrinking Art Critic by Eleanor Heartney
Irving: by Dave Hickey
Popcorn Manifesto by David Humphrey
Critical Acts by Richard Kalina
The Four Corners of Painting by Richard Kalina
Three Crises by Pepe Karmel
The Persistence of Art Criticism by Vincent Katz
A Fork in the Linguistic Road by Max Kozloff
Dear Irving by David Levi Strauss
Re: Art Criticism Today by Kim Levin
The End of Reading by Jonathan T.D. Neil
What’s So Important About Criticism? by Barbara A. MacAdam
Re: Art Criticism Today by Jed Perl
Middlebrow? Smile When You Say That by Peter Plagens
Performance Anxiety by Nancy Princenthal
Thanks for the Memory by Barbara Rose
Renewable Energy for Criticism by Raphael Rubinstein
What’s Lost is What I Want by Ed Schad
Criticism and Self-Criticism by Barry Schwabsky
Re: Art Criticism Today by Martha Schwendener
Ars Critica by Robert Storr
Art Criticism & Social Media by Phyllis Tuchman
The World Out There by Amei Wallach
Crit Lit by Lilly Wei
A Good Painting is Better and More Interesting Than a Stick in the Eye by Stephen Westfall
Re: Art Criticism Today by Karen Wilkin
Quarterdeck Reflections by Alexi Worth
Re: Art Criticism Today by Christian Viveros-Faune
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Re: Brooklyn Rail - The State of Art Criticism

Postby art » Sun Dec 23, 2012 7:36 am

Looks good but link needs fix

Re: Brooklyn Rail - The State of Art Criticism

Postby CAP » Sun Dec 23, 2012 11:38 am

Sorry about that: a glitch in the HTML - put it down to brainfade + frantic dress rehearsals for Christmas carousing!

Try it now. There. Much better!

Ho Ho Ho :lol:
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Re: Brooklyn Rail - The State of Art Criticism

Postby CAP » Sun Dec 23, 2012 3:30 pm

1. What should art criticism be doing?
2. What are the issues or polemics, if any, for art criticism?
3. Is there a crisis in criticism?
4. Has art criticism been marginalized in the art world consensus? Is it influential in terms of what readers think and do?
5. Who and what is an art critic?
6. How would you define yourself as a critic? Reviewer? Essayist? Theorist? Artist-critic? Blogger?
7. For what audience do you write?
8. Has the Internet been good or bad for art criticism? Does it raise the issue of elitism versus populism?
9. How do you deal with the proliferating mediums in the art world today?
10. How has globalization of art and the art world changed art criticism?
11. How has the enormous growth of the art world changed art criticism?
12. How do art magazine policies affect art criticism?
13. Are gender-based and political issues still viable in art criticism today?
14. Is it a function of art criticism to analyze art world institutions?

Brooklyn Rail seems to have circulated a list of questions – I’ve copied them as Martha Schwenderer has answered them – but Peter Plagens seems to address them in exactly the same order as well, without including them in his replies. On the other hand a lot of the critics have just answered generally, rolling them all into one considered blammerino. Tight copy. Some answers are commonsensical, some quite pessimistic, some quite personal.

Somehow I was not asked, again. I know this is as hurtful for you to learn as it is for I to confess, but… could be the protracted standoff following my submission of a stinging review of Terry Smith’s What is Contemporary Art? from last year. Could be just office bungle. I’m a patient man. Let’s not get paranoid. Although they did ask just a nerdy PhD candidate from Princeton specialising in Ad Reinhardt for pity’s sake, so it’s not like their sample was limited to mainstream press and market luvvies, either. OK let’s not get paranoid. At least they didn’t ask that crazy lady from Art Fag City, who seems to have become a paid shill for art fairs. They got some things right. Amazingly, they didn’t ask - or at least didn’t get a response from - James Elkins. He’s been anguishing about this stuff for the past couple of years, as he outsources his books to a global fan base and somehow keeps finding varsity publishing houses. I guess it’s that old Cornell network, heh, heh, heh. Although, he probably would have needed to workshop the thing through FB again. Like. Share. Comment. Hey Jim’s a busy man, right? Someone else cites him in their response though, so nods to the Chi corner at least.


Let’s not brood. Let’s just answer the questionnaire, here, in the privacy of our own awesome site, a glass of something comforting and seasonal within ready grasp….

1) The function of art criticism:

This is not as straightforward as it seems. Initially we might say criticism tells us whether something is good or bad and explains why. This is true of arts criticism generally – doesn’t matter whether we’re talking about literature, drama, music or fine art. But to make this call criticism firstly has to say what sort of work the work in question is, what it is about and then whether it’s a notable specimen of this category, and whether its subject or content is worthwhile, for this category or genre and in the way the artist approaches it. So there’s a lot of explaining or interpreting to be done, if the job is to be done properly. The point is either to persuade readers or at least demonstrate why a critic holds a certain opinion, enables others to contrast and compare their own responses.

2) Current issues and polemics in art criticism:

A lot of the Brooklyn Rail responses skip this one, not so much because they’re afraid of treading on colleagues’ toes, but because the issues tend to arise at the level of theory or aesthetics rather than down in the nitty gritty of specific criticism. For me the issues really lie with an adequate account of art history in the second half of the twentieth century, and particularly with the course of painting. So much curatorial preference and institutional approval proceeds on blithe assumptions in this area to quite misleading and arid ends, I consider it a critical priority. But then I’m as much an art historian as a critic.

3) Is there a crisis in criticism?

The panel are pretty much divided on this one. Old school practitioners see the influence of ‘respected voices’ waning under a torrent of sponsored PR from vested interests on the one hand and the proliferation of unsolicited commentary via the web on the other. Critics never got paid much anyway, but now they have to compete with amateurs from anywhere doing it for free. The crisis for the old school is that there’s no status or livelihood in it anymore. Then again, new school critics seem to welcome the loosening up of the field, the more provisional, fragmentary approach, as people report serially, rather than comprehensively or seriously. New Schoolers are the sort of people who see the good in everyone.

My view is that the old school objection mostly belongs to a wider complaint about hard copy press versus online versions. Where the objection is to the volumes of PR issued in the name of criticism, I suspect this is actually a longstanding practice, easily distinguished from authentic criticism by its shallow and flawed arguments, its manifest conformity or mediocrity in choice of topic. As for whether there really was a golden era where the critic’s word was respected by artists and market alike, I suspect this is exaggerated. Someone like Clement Greenberg certainly promoted certain abstract artists, but others succeeded without his approval while figurative trends like Pop Art or Photo-Realism flourished despite Greenberg roundly condemning them. Clearly there were limits to his influence; other critics, other avenues for promotion.

As for blogging, online commenting, following, FaceBooking or Twittering, I do not see these as a challenge or alternative to criticism. Rather, they seem like preliminary note-sharing at best, harmless gossip at worst. All the chatter ought to add to the background available to the dedicated critic, actually encourage or anticipate some more comprehensive statement. I do not see these brief reports indefinitely deferring proper criticism because at some point there is a need to sum things up before moving on, to formalise conclusions. There is not really a crisis for criticism in this new informal commentary, actually it sharpens what we should expect from authentic criticism.

4) How influential is art criticism?

Following on from the tendency to ascribe enormous influence to critics in the past, this question is really about what sort of influence criticism has now. Clearly the kind of influence a Greenberg or Fried might once have wielded, has largely been replaced by the curator, through the profusion of public galleries and museums, the regular travelling shows and surveys available globally. Curators are the huge growth area in facilitators and managers for all this new infrastructure. Curators essentially leapfrog criticism to present works as a fait accompli. Where critics only write, curators just do. They don’t have to explain, they just arrange preferred works on a wall under a typically grand theme. It’s no longer a question of a critic bringing an artist to their attention and the artist graduating to recognition in public spaces as a result of some convincing articulation. You don’t have to read about them at all now – you just have to see the works migrate between increasingly prestigious spaces, vouched for by the pro-active curator, on no more than the most feeble of rationales or flimsiest of programmes.

Where does this leave art criticism? That depends on whether art criticism wants to address this general situation, or at least some of the more unworthy curators, pathetic surveys. But mostly this is seen as too hostile and criticism leaves the job to someone else. A point only exacerbated as such shows then insist upon critical coverage through their institutional standing. Certainly it has changed the influence of critics, not because of their lack of perception or integrity, but simply because of the institutional power wielded by professional curators, in the opportunities for exposure and acquisition. Curators, may of course also be critics, or perhaps have graduated from criticism, but once the flow of works from artists to galleries is more efficiently facilitated by direct institutional approval – that is, curators in important public or corporate spaces – the critic’s role as bold and lucid interpreter is largely subsumed or usurped, however you want to look at it. Critics may have the last word on the work of curators, of course, but by definition that does not leave room for influence. Curators are naturally reluctant to openly concede mistakes; there is a meal ticket at stake after all. At most, they simply beg to differ. Collectors have not been slow to acknowledge this shift in influence either. The amusing mating dance between major collectors and public galleries is another consequence of this enormous growth in infrastructure, its florid press releases, invasive sponsorship and discreet indulgences.

More committed critics may simply conclude that they must further their voice through curating – chase the influence. But it may be that criticism does better to resist the corporate model and concentrate on the basics. Criticism demonstrates how a work conveys meaning, what value to attach to that and that this is available to all, quite independent of price. The survival of criticism in its naked or simply written form is important as contrast with curatorial practice. Its influence then is diffuse rather than pointed or market-friendly but remains absolutely necessary.

5) Who and What is an art critic?

This is pretty much covered by 1).

6) Are you a critic? Reviewer? Essayist? Theorist? Artist-critic? Blogger?

None of these descriptions really mean much to me. Most of the answers on Brooklyn Rail accept reviewer – maybe Hal Foster goes for essayist or theorist since he’s an academic. Why one couldn’t be a blogger as well as reviewer, essayist or theorist I don’t know. Blogging as I understand it just means a free web site with certain constraints on template or format.

7) For what audience do you write?

I think I write for a specialised, informed or interested audience. They have to already be interested in art, but I try and explain some technicalities that arise, so the audience don’t have to be top notch academics or master craftsmen. People who ask this question are usually interested in advertising or marketing your writing. I’ve given up on that as too restrictive. I know I have a very small audience. Apart from on WWR, the largest number of hits any of my articles has ever registered is about 900 – and strangely that was for the Terry Smith – What is Contemporary Art? review, which was probably my most specialised and theoretical piece – and fairly lengthy! Go figure.

8) Has the Internet been good or bad for art criticism? Does it raise the issue of elitism versus populism?

See answer to 3).

9) How do you deal with the proliferating mediums in the art world today?

Again this is not a point all the responses on Brooklyn Rail address, I think largely in the interests of brevity. It is a pretty long questionnaire, and by the time you answer each hot topic, the reply – as you can see – gets a bit long. Maybe there was a word limit on the responses as well. Anyway – not so here. On the question of ‘mediums’ I’ve recently taken issue with this view of fine art categories and argue that painting is not adequately defined as a matter of materials and techniques so much as genres or categories of content. This is a complex topic, but basic – and really quite silly - thinking about materials and techniques lies at the heart of further distinctions between say, video and photography, Conceptual Art and sculpture and again, a supposed history of progression or succession from one category to the other. So it is a very important point, but as we’ve just ticked over 2000 words here, I’m saying no more.

10) How has globalization of art and the art world changed art criticism?

This is tied in with the explosion in art infrastructure and institutions and the points in 4). The issues for criticism are again more at the level of curatorial rationale rather than individual works.

11) How has the enormous growth of the art world changed art criticism?

See answer to 4).

12) How do art magazine policies affect art criticism?

Which shows get reviewed, or rather which reviews get published, reflects the publisher’s priorities. In my experience (limited though it may be) editors want big public events like Biennales or touring shows filled with priceless masterpieces, covered preferably in gentle terms, at moderate length. I never asked why. I just refused. But partly I think it’s a conformist instinct, they want to run with the herd, hopefully stick with more readers. I can understand that. It’s just not what I do. I gots to be free man. People think advertising dictates reviewing content, that there are tacit agreements in the interest of finance. I’ve never come across any, is all I can say on that. I think there are favours called in on occasion, but I don’t think there’s policy. It’s too risky. The point of a conspiracy is to remain hidden, obviously. If it became obvious that magazines conspired with sponsors or advertisers, they would quickly lose their readership and any appeal to an outside or impartial voice. So I think magazines can bend the rules now and then, but generally they have got to let the critics make their calls, irrespective of whose feelings get hurt.

13) Are gender-based and political issues still viable in art criticism today?

They’re as viable as they ever were, let me put it that way.

14) Is it a function of art criticism to analyze art world institutions?

It didn’t used to be, but as I’ve explained on 4) at a certain point criticism has no choice unless it wants to be swallowed whole by curating.
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Re: Brooklyn Rail - The State of Art Criticism

Postby CAP » Sat Jan 12, 2013 4:04 am

This thread sort of continues over on an Art Reviews Forum thread, here.
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Re: Brooklyn Rail - The State of Art Criticism

Postby CAP » Fri Feb 08, 2013 11:49 am

Christian Viveros-Faune now joins the conversation, or on at least a related topic, over @ Village Voice.
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