Monday, May 15, 2006

Art Critics Free-for-All

If you haven't been glued to it all day already, I'd encourage you to check out the weeklong online debate on art criticism being hosted by Arts Journal. So far there's a surprising degree of scepticism about the very medium that's making this forum possible, but no lack of good writing or interesting back-and-forth.


Anonymous JL said...

I expected to find it thoroughly dull, as I find a lot of these discussions to be, but it hasn't been--at least, not entirely. Obviously I find the distaste for blogs or bloggers some of the writers express a little off-putting. Then again, they're the ones worried that they'll lose their jobs, so a little crankiness is only to be expected. I guess I find it odd in that by and large the mutually antagonistic blog/professional media relationship so prominent in the political world isn't something I normally think of as happening in this corner. Not that there aren't exceptions, but that's what they've always seemed to me to be, exceptions.

The idea some of those posting express (which I remember Matthew Yglesias championing a couple of years ago regarding political blogs) that the end result will be that some talented few bloggers will be absorbed into professional media, pulling up the ladder behind them, and the whole phenomenon will then fade away, seems to me to be inaccurate. Not that some people won't get into the media through blogging, but many of the people who have their own sites aren't writing for that motivation, and won't lose their audience. People who are interested in reading about art at this level are media junkies, and aren't going to limit their sources. That's not to say that every site will have a huge audience, especially as more and more appear, but most don't already and they go on.

Ultimately, the framing of the discussion as blogging vs. art criticism, with an undertone of amateur vs. professional, misses a lot of what's happening. Many art blogs are by people with professional roles and/or training in the arts, and a lot of what gets posted isn't meant to be art criticism. Some of the posts have hinted at these points, without them ever being fully elaborated. The writers who criticize blogs for not measuring up to the standards of professional criticism don't seem to realize that what they are looking at consists in different measures of shop talk, gossip, personal reflections, advocacy, journal or diary writing, news commentary, and a host of other things in addition to some criticism. They're writing as if there was a world of professional criticism that everyone looked to, without considering the role of informal conversations, pamphlets or little magazines, 'zines, artist's writings, etc., that have played roles in various ways throughout different periods of art. A lot of art blogging falls closer to those types of communication, and it's silly to criticize it for not being a closer approximation of the arts section of the newspaper.

5/15/2006 01:02:00 PM  
Blogger JD said...

JL, good points. I also think that the art blogs have a tendency to attract artists, rather than critics or theorists. Artists' voices are kind of absent, curiously, from the written dialogue about contemporary art. Maybe it's because we have less time to write polished pieces meant for publication, or that we feel insecure about our intellectual/verbal skills (not that we really should!). Anyway, many of us are very good thinkers, and I for one find it terrific to have this kind of a forum to discuss ideas.

*Ironically, I suddenly feel like my writing has become retarded. Please pardon me! I'll get smart again at some point, I hope.

5/15/2006 04:27:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Blogs are, and I hope will remain, first and foremost Entertainment, in my opinion. I shudder at the thought that they should aspire to be too much more than that because then I'd find myself forced to advocate standards (other than, obviously, truth) and that leads to copyediting and other unpleasantries...not that bloggers should simply spew their thoughts unformed, but the speed of the medium is one of its most attractive aspects, and I'd hate to see it dragged down by aspirations to be something else.

Blogs are filling in the gaps, fleshing out the corners, and in many ways serving as ombudsmen on topics traditional art media are not interested in or don't have space to cover. The only thing professional art critics have to fear regarding blogs is that they'll perhaps find themselves underinformed if they don't read them or take them seriously.

We've seen in the realm of regular news media memes rise, poorly thought-out critiques get fisked, sloppy work get exposed, and journalists' careers cut short...all because of blogs.

Art critics should simply consider them unedited letters to the editor on steroids and they'll know how to relate to them (i.e., they're not harmless, but they're not gonna replace you either).

5/15/2006 04:42:00 PM  
Blogger DilettanteVentures said...


The notion that blogs should be "entertainment" first, really seems to feed into the hierarchical view expressed by some of the people over at ArtsJournal. Obviously, blogging's strength and weakness is the diversity of participants. There are plenty of bloggers we read for something more than "entertainment." Since most bloggers write outside of economic pressure (other than having the free time and access to a computer), one of the "threats" they pose to mainstream media in the arts is that it can further expose the dominance of market logic on most art publication/production. You can see a funny example of this sort of thing by looking at art publications in Canada - many of them are partially funded by the Canadian govt. and don't have to rely on advertising from galleries to stay afloat, and can thus avoid most of the politics that come along with it - ahem, getting reviewed in Artforum. Of course the same thing can bee seen in zines - but blogging adds this nice "real time" commentary that enables more vibrant and dynamic discussions to occur. We find most "real" art publications/criticism to be so ossified, so conservative, as to be largley irrelevant other than as snapshots of culturally dominant discourse.

5/15/2006 06:09:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Obviously, DV, I can't speak for other bloggers. But I am not an art critic and don't want to be thought of as such. I will offer opinions on this or that exhibition from time to time, but as a participant in the dialog, not as a professional critic.

Perhaps I should have qualified my comments better, because there are critics who have blogs, and I do read those for criticism, and not just entertainment.

I do think, however, that the standards that apply to print, (mainly the full range of implications that come with the editing process), don't apply to blogs and that is a distinction with a difference. As for hierarchy, well there's no contest. Blogs are better. ;-)

5/15/2006 06:21:00 PM  
Anonymous David said...

Blogs are, and I hope will remain, first and foremost Entertainment...

Blogs seem to be entertainment to the same extent that conversations are entertainment. I mean sometimes there's just bantering, and other times there are real discussions. In the best of cases, one gets to know other people, exchange views with them, test out and expand one's ideas and opinions through the interchange. So sure, there's an entertainment component, but potentially more too, I think. I'm referring of course to blogs that are open to comments, like this one.

5/15/2006 06:29:00 PM  
Blogger Keane said...

Edward once told me he enjoyed reading my old 'blog' (which I thought of as an absurd monthly column) for its' point of view even if he disagreed with half the shit I said. And I talked mountains of shit about a lot artists and dealers. So, it's interesting to observe both sides of the debate about blog authenticity as it were in the heirarchy of print and electronic media.

I think I had a pretty small, but dedicated readership at one point online before Williasmburg keeled over and everyone fled. Then freewilliasmburg switched over to a blog format and it became about a constant stream of posting. I couldn't possibly write daily, even weekly and keep it interesting or funny. Writing is really hard work, and anyone who has published criticism or written a blog knows this. I amazed at the dedication of bloggers like Edward, Barry, James, Edna, and others who I am starting to get acquainted with. There's a level on engagment with the art world that I admire, and maybe even respect. I mean, I'd like to see more reviews of shows from the specific perspectives of the personalities writing them, not just the generic shit in Artforum. Ack.
I want to know what you fucking think? What do you feel about it? That's where blogs ultimately can provide freedom from restraints of seriousness and objectivity. I mean Fox news corp. takes itself seriously. Do I? fuck no.

Anyway, I need a drink. All this dialogue is giving me a headache. Yer all starting to get way too serious yourselves. Don't become what you despised in the first place.

5/15/2006 08:37:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

I expected to find it thoroughly dull, as I find a lot of these discussions to be, but it hasn't been--at least, not entirely.

Give it time. We're only on day two.

Oh, I've enjoyed it - I don't mean to sound cranky. I'm just waiting to see if I still find it all edifying on Thursday. I keep thinking that the media landscape will continue to heave in its seismic way regardless of anyone's comments upon it, but what the heck, hashing it out is fun.

5/15/2006 09:13:00 PM  
Anonymous JL said...

Give it time. We're only on day two.

Good point. And yes, I agree that events will go as they will regardless of any of our handwringing, whether professional or amateur.

One point that did come up that I wholeheartedly agree with is the effect that the ability to access content online has had on writing about it. I think whoever said it was writing about music--why talk about it when you can just download it?--but I've noticed the same thing happening with visual art as well. In part it's a function of the constrained time which most of us have to write. But I do notice that when I'm able to link to or provide an image, there's a tendency on my part to not dig as deep, not to describe as closely, but instead to say, essentially, "here it is." Which is a bit lazy on my part, but so easy.

5/16/2006 09:48:00 AM  
Blogger Tyler said...

Everyone is being too nice to each other. People seem afraid to call dumb ideas 'dumb ideas.'

5/16/2006 03:18:00 PM  
Blogger AFC said...

I realize this conversation is mostly finished, but I do want to say, that I think that people entertainment is not the only way, but these days certainly the easiest way to communicate more complex thoughts and have people actually pay attention to them.

5/18/2006 09:55:00 PM  

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