In this Art Dirt podcast, Brandon Zech and Christina Rees talk about how art criticism functions today.
“Art writing has veered in two or three different directions away from what feels like honest and rigorous and thoughtful criticism; it’s become lifestyle writing.”
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Great conversation. Thanks for taking on this topic.
You talked about how young artists are hungry for criticism of any kind and the old generation “bristle” at a critique that is not favorable. It may be a sign that the myth of failure is a zero-sum game is losing as a paradigm. Failure can be seen as a way to learn and grow. Or maybe young people are hungry in general and need any attention they can get.
I know I need my cheers, but I also need those that are willing to tell it to me straight.
Excellent conversation on art criticism!—why write it, why publish it, who reads it, what purpose does it serve?
As a veteran critic (echoing many of your comments), I’d say the most important thing to do before writing criticism is to identify the motivation to write it: If criticism is a way to externalize an internal response, then try to understand what is behind the response. And then consider whether the writing has captured that response accurately.
If the writing experience is feeling praiseful, ask yourself what internal response elicits the praise (e.g., pleasure, awe, excitement, shock, admiration, identification, zeitgeist, synchronicity, formal mastery or other expertise)? If the writing is feeling critical, what elicits that internal response (e.g., boredom, confusion, disappointment, embarrassment, ridicule, antipathy, formal mastery or other expertise)? Whether internal responses form the basis for evaluative judgments—if a work of art is “good” or “bad”—should be a secondary consideration, if necessary at all.
Next, it’s important for the writer to identify whether the impulse to write is based on any external influence or agenda (e.g., established aesthetics or taste, politics, institutional allegiance, academic orientation, historical documentation, social or cultural bias, editorial input, prejudice, attention or status seeking, cliquishness, vendetta or sycophancy)—that is, of course, to the extent the writer can identify which external influences/agendas have become internalized.
In the end, if a writer of art criticism can understand their own motivations to write, then they can productively dialogue with the work of an artist, who also experiences specific motivations to make art. It’s a complicated way of getting around to something simple and valuable.