The interesting thing about art criticism

For all you art world artists out there.

I just read this article the other day and it reminded me why art criticism, for all the good it is capable of, continues to bore me. Read this if you are interested:

Why Do Critics Still Hate Andrew Wyeth?

Something to consider:

Criticism does not require that the thing is understood in any sense beyond provoking criticism. It is always more about the person criticizing than the work itself. The critic is reacting. It pretends to speak from authority, but at most we can grant “This is what you see.”

The magnifying lens is almost as important as the hat and beard.

The magnifying glass is almost as important as the hat and beard.

And maybe sometimes they get things right. Or right enough to lay serious claim to our interest. Occasionally that perspective is worth paying attention to, but criticism has also become an industry. And when people are getting paid to have an opinion the question is always whether the money has been well spent. Who does the job serve? Who is paying for it? Who benefits?

Unfortunately, paid opinions seem more justified the less tolerant they are. If you are aiming for exclusivity, an ‘elite’ opinion, then you have to be against certain things. The more black and white perspective needs to be the more our own bias seems required. It actually pays to misunderstand some things, so long as you can be unequivocally against them or for them. The best way to get heard, the easiest way to get paid, is to have strong opinions about why certain work sucks, even. Its easier to tear down than build up, and criticism is a litany of self-cannibalization as new darlings replace the worn out and cast aside iterations. Progress, we call it.

“The situation borders on untenable if we consider that many of the artworks that seem to attract and even demand critical writing are often also goods for sale to elite consumers. Critics of contemporary visual art have some difficult jiu-jitsu to master: examining the power relations in society on the one hand while effectively greasing the wheels of a market for luxury items on the other…. Even scathing negative reviews can be touted by galleries as evidence of an artist’s relevance.” William S. Smith, Same As It Ever Was: A Conference on Art Criticism in the Digital Age

Criticism only works when we take it seriously. Then we get to debate the opinions as though they counted, and that is the only point of having an industry of opinions: The debate, not the work itself. What gets said rather than what its said about.

Criticism puts itself in the role of being at least as interesting as the work. It tells us that in many cases the work is less important than what you can say about it. If the work is crap you’ve at least told the truth, and that truth outweighs whatever charm the work carries…… Every word used to demean some art form, to tell us its not worth our time, suggests instead that the words leading us to that perspective are the important thing to observe.

Isn’t that strange?


About Carter Gillies

I am an active potter and sometime pottery instructor who is fascinated by the philosophical side of making pots, teaching these skills, and issues of the artistic life in general. I seem to have a lot to say on this blog, but I don't insist that I'm right. I'm always trying to figure stuff out, and part of that involves admitting that I am almost always wrong in important ways. If you are up for it, please help me out by steering my thoughts in new and interesting directions. I always appreciate the challenge of learning what other people think.
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2 Responses to The interesting thing about art criticism

  1. My art isn’t well known enough to be professionally criticised, but if or when it is, I will be terrified!

  2. Theresa says:

    You have a very good point! That is precisely what has always bothered me about art critics too. Unless they can have a dialogue with the artist, they don’t really know.

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