In Defence of Art Criticism (Not just moaning…)

liverpool3As a writer, reviews and criticism are the building blocks of what I do. Writing about art is a passion of mine, thanks to a deep appreciation for the subject. It is my firm belief that with any subjective body of work (music, literature, film), it is constructive and intelligent criticism which drives ingenuity and creativity, and so I will always champion critical writing.

Another local website, the Double Negative likewise champions critical writing, and this revolution in thoughtful criticism brings a healthy sense of debate to the art world and maybe more importantly, to Liverpool’s buzzing local art scene.

It is in the light of a tidal wave of negative, depressing reviews from big, national papers about Liverpool Biennial 2014 that I write this piece. (NB. My personal opinion of the exhibition is not relevant here). For me, and I’m sure there are many out there that would agree, being an art critic is not about having a moan. It’s not about hating everything and being frustratingly aloof about your reasoning. This apathetic form of journalism is most probably a much wider epidemic, but having kept up to date with this particular series of reviews I feel compelled to take these as my example:

Of the numerous reviews slating the Biennial, one which particularly grabbed my attention was somewhat cheaply entitled “Misery on the Mersey”. A poor pun if ever there was one. Like I said, art criticism is fantastic, but when did it become the in thing to just straight up hate everything? It’s really easy to have a moan, easier than admitting to enjoying something in fact. We all do it day to day; it fuels small talk and can get us through a dull shift at the office. But when it comes to journalism, it’s just plain lazy.

“There is a lot of bad art” says this particular offender. Explanation? Zero. The journalist proceeds to eloquently list those pieces she considers “bad art” but does not tell us what her problem with each work actually is. Conclusion: poor writing, potential lack of understanding but most of all, a desperate lack of ideas. Frustratingly, I have noticed this boring, lacklustre template occur in a few recent arts features and find it infuriating that such writing can be given a platform, when really the writer is saying very little at all.

This is by no means to say that criticism is a bad thing – criticism is vitally important. If a writer likes everything, I believe it makes their opinion less credible and their articles ultimately less interesting too. I have written several honest, negative reviews, and in the past have been shocked when local websites and magazines have refused to publish them, because they don’t “promote” what is being talked about.

It works both ways; as a writer there is no point in promoting something you don’t believe in – it’s just not honest. But it is also impossible to believe in an opinion that cannot be substantiated, as this alienates the reader and makes us question your judgement, and whether a said writer actually understands the topic about which they have written.

There is clearly a huge disparity in what passes for critical writing, particularly in the art world, and this is somewhat problematic. On the one hand, we have journalists who are out of ideas and lacking in everything but bull-headed opinion. On the other, we have smaller, independent publishers who want to keep their readers and more importantly the artists/musicians/organisations they represent happy by awarding them positive publicity. Where does the solution to this critical case lie? The answer remains to be seen.

About teafortwotalk

Freelance writer @Pickwickmag @Corridor8 @Biennial / Editor @artinliverpool. Available for writing and copyediting.
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4 Responses to In Defence of Art Criticism (Not just moaning…)

    • I think what is wrong with the linked article is that the journalist is attacking the wrong people (combined with a blinkered knowledge of the sheer number and variety of artists working throughout Britain today). Whose fault is it that Damien Hirst and his peers are celebrities firsts and artists second? The media and the institutions backing them. If these powerful bodies paid half as much attention to Hirst’a diamonds as they did to any one city’s art scene that journalists list would be much longer

  1. I only really enjoy reading local bloggers and writers…I think in the main they are honest. A couple are a case of Emperors New Clothes though 🙂

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