Wednesday, February 20, 2013

From the Inbox : Responding to Bad Reviews | Open Thread

It feels like we've covered this on the blog once, long ago, but the question keeps coming up, and opinions do evolve, so I thought I'd take the opportunity upon receiving an email query about it to delve into the discussion again. 

Critics, in particular, don't shy away from diving in here.

From the Inbox: 
Dear Edward,

I have a question.
If a show receives a bad review, should a gallerist ever respond?
A current show at my gallery received a negative review.
I am thinking about a brief, polite response in the comments field of the online version of the review.
Are there any circumstances where this is called for or can be done tactfully?

Thanks!
{Name withheld}
Not that we've ever, ahem, had a bad review in our gallery, mind you (selective memory loss can be a blessing, you know), but my personal opinion on the matter is that it's best not to respond at all, unless there's clearly an important error in the review (some incorrect factoid that could have lasting negative impact on the artist because of a misunderstanding or [yes it happens] misinformation offered by the gallery). What constitutes a "lasting negative impact" will be a matter of opinion, most often, but when it's clearly just a matter of disagreement (about the quality or intent of the work), I feel strongly it's best to not respond.

First in my thought process about this, is that we (the artist and the gallery) are putting the work out there for a response, and the writer is most certainly entitled to his/her opinion. Negative responses are the risk you take for asking people to come by and see the work. That doesn't make them easier to accept. Behind closed doors, often over cocktails, we may occasionally debate the taste [and once, perhaps, the possible mixed-species genealogy] of a critic who pans one of our shows...er, I mean, one of our friends' shows that we also like. But we did ask for a public response. And so, we got one. If you don't want one, don't let the critics in.

Second though, and this is more important, I respect the job the critics do, and I want them to keep coming to see our shows. So I don't want them to think it's not worth reviewing our shows because we'll just argue with them about their professional opinions if we don't like them (I've sense the exasperation in the response from critics we've sent "corrections" to; I can only imagine it gets old on their end very quickly). Moreover, no gallery I know gets positive reviews for every show. I'd suspect they weren't trying hard enough if they did.

Finally, though, in this era of constant commenting for online reviews, the gallery risks inviting even harsher feedback by objecting (especially in a public way) to a critic's take on a show. Where billy-goat-eating readers might simply share approval of a negative review they agree with in the comments section, should the gallery or artist step in to offer disagreement, the gloves often then come off and the artist can them be subjected to a brutal barrage of highly personal attacks. I suspect this is because no one likes a "sore loser"...that if you're lucky enough to get a show...and then on top of that lucky enough to get a review...even if it's negative, the troll-o-sphere feels you should be bloody grateful and just shut up.

But those are just my opinions. Help this inquirer by sharing your own.

10 Comments:

Blogger lynnxe said...

I had a former dealer who used to do this with bad reviews (thankfully never for any of my reviews!). I always felt embarrassed for him, and didn't want to be associated with that sour grapes feeling. There's nothing that the gallery or artist can say that isn't going to come off badly. I totally agree -- silence is the best response!

2/20/2013 12:46:00 PM  
Anonymous Ben said...

Whenever we've gotten a bad review, I always keep my mouth shut. The worst review is always no review. I also try to keep in mind that those reading the review are not going to automatically agree with the critic. In fact, an over passionate negative review often makes me want to see the show to formulate my own opinion.

2/20/2013 01:05:00 PM  
Anonymous Larry said...

The Internet allows for far more dynamic give and take between critics, galleries, and the public. Comment sections on on-line reviews let the public respond to critics that members of the public feel are wrong-headed, and galleries can post images of artists' works that let the public decide for themselves if the art is worthwhile. We're no longer in a time when a critic's ex cathedra pronouncements can be used to definitively seal an artist's fate.

2/21/2013 02:07:00 PM  
Blogger Sergio Lopez said...

The internet will always do the opposite of what you tell it to do.

2/21/2013 03:19:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

About a decade ago a friend received a scathing review from a NYTimes critic, stating that the artisit's work should never be seen in public. When the artist called and asked if I had read it, I reminded the artist that a year ago the work wouldn't have risen to the level of importance where it could have recieved comment, and now the work was important enough. That seemed to help.

2/24/2013 07:29:00 AM  
Blogger CharlesRKiss said...

If I were an artist, I would have to argue with myself for a very, very, long time (much longer than I already have), to find how self-censorship can be a positive artistic attribute. I was trained to believe artists were in action to communicate ideas -as best they could, and take risks, experiment.

Self-censorship is either by fear or by politics, and seems such an antipathy to truth. Some would argue there isn't any truth, or all the truths cancel each other out in expression -either by words, images, all of the above, etc. This only argues for the more reason to speak!

My advice to you is not to hold back; and since when does anybody care what anyone thinks about what you have to say or write, anyway.

If it turns into a high-school clique comment anti-party, so be it.

Good luck!

3/12/2013 04:57:00 PM  
Blogger CharlesRKiss said...

If I were an artist, I would have to argue with myself for a very, very, long time (much longer than I already have), to find how self-censorship can be a positive artistic attribute. I was trained to believe artists were in action to communicate ideas -as best they could, and take risks, experiment.

Self-censorship is either by fear or by politics, and seems such an antipathy to truth. Some would argue there isn't any truth, or all the truths cancel each other out in expression -either by words, images, all of the above, etc. This only argues for the more reason to speak!

My advice to you is not to hold back; and since when does anybody care what anyone thinks about what you have to say or write, anyway.
Deal with the consequences later.

If it turns into a high-school clique comment face-slapping-party, so be it.

Good luck!

3/12/2013 04:59:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I see your point to some degree Charles, except that an artists have already communicated their ideas by putting their work out there for feedback, and there comes a time when, if they are really interested in a dialog and not just a monologue they need to listen to that feedback. Not agree with it, certainly, because it can be terribly wrong, but to listen. I believe not responding to a bad review signals that the artist is indeed considering the feedback. Obviously they don't agree with negative feedback automatically or they wouldn't have put the work out there, but to suggest they should argue with any negative feedback out of a commitment to their communication of ideas makes it sound too much like a one-way street for my taste.

3/12/2013 05:05:00 PM  
Blogger CharlesRKiss said...

Okay, I'll compromise and argue each case is different. But it can be true that the artwork is not the perfect work, and may need a bit of tweaking through text, or the work goes a bit over the viewers heads, and they may need a little help.

I'm not sure what the history is on this sort of thing, but there must be some cases, I imagine, where commentary by the artist was made after or during an exhibition -I'm just brought to mind now the Fauves (riot!) at the Salon D'Automne 1905 . How artists commentary in defense of their work must have served to further activate the dialog; I just can't imagine them keeping their mouths closed since they've always talked and wrote so much about it among themselves beforehand.

But I'm making that up, it's just a guess for now.

3/12/2013 05:23:00 PM  
Anonymous resonanteye said...

good critics show me how I'm failing. why would i argue about it?

if they're doing their job right, it can only help me do mine better.

bad critics don't deserve the attention, but a bad review from a good critic is a treasure.

4/10/2013 03:54:00 AM  

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