Wednesday, January 11, 2006

art criticism (description?)

Why is it that the majority of art reviews are solely based on description, not evaluation and analysis? I have been thinking about this topic for some time now, partially because I like to read about art and find it difficult to want to read a review that talks about how art looks, where/how it was placed, what the colors are...and so on. Let me emphasize "want" again. I want to read art criticism that is interesting and isn't like licking sand off a jagged piece of glass.

In the recent issue of Art in America there is an article called "Art Criticism, Bound to Fail" and one can imagine my excitement when I thought the problems of current art discussion would be addressed. I grabbed my pen, ready to underline the key points but found after finishing that the only star subjects mentioned never went into detail and also were the bullet points to the page! The article did bring up some ideas about the downfall of art writing. For instance the gap between artists and art critics has grown - past critics like Greenberg and other mid-century writers dined with fellow artists regularly. The essay took no real side, and in fact felt like a dull descriptive review that didn't seize the chance to step up. They went on to say, "the guiding question shouldn't be why write art criticism, but why make art?" and "what matters most about visual art, in the end, is that it's visual, that it always involves an essential quality which exceeds written accounts". So, as with art, I guess there is no real answer and art criticism is also subjective in style. But why spend time reading what something looks like for so long without any sort of evaluation of the intent?

This now brings me to writers who love everything. Why? Not all art is good so why write about the color and composition for so long when the exhibition is weak and other issues could have been addressed. I only bring this up because I recently read the Judy Pfaff review in Metro Times and felt that...yes, it was a nice review but the show was very decorative and just boring. Pfaff's art history is intersting but if the viewer knew nothing about the show, would they think the same?

17 Comments:

Anonymous Nolan Simon said...

Most art mags don't allow bad reviews, so if someone has developed a relationship with the mag (either through buying ads or some other associative tie) they're bound to get a good review.

I think it lowers the bar for art writing too far, and drags down our expectations for art along with it. I can't help but wonder what art might look like now if everyones expectations were set higher.

8:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i always think you can equally blame galleries and artists. Gallleries are institutions, they are for profit, they will push their art, they will also have collectors and agents push their work. i also think there is a difference between review and criticism, and their needs to be. It might be better to define which one you are talking about.

11:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It may also be that national mags shoot for a wider audience and wasting print on a bad show is just throwing away money. Its not that they love everything, its just that they only print mostly good news. Here in Detroit it seems a little different. Here its like no one wants to offend anyone. Maybe it is a carry over from the whole social segregation thing. Everyone around here tries so hard not to step on toes, when in reality a firm denouncement of an artist or gallery could have an evolutionary effect, similar to pruning a tree. We have all been to shows or seen artists from this area and thought silently that the art displayed has no place in a public setting, yet we say nothing. It would seem that the art world in Detroit is so desperate to succeed and grow that it ignores dangerously infected branches that would probably help if they were pruned.

12:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

word up

12:41 PM  
Anonymous Nolan Simon said...

Well, Anon, I agree, so please do us the honors. Who do you see as the infected branches? Your post seems to do nothing, if not perpetuate the problem. Not posting your name alleviates you from any possible fear of retaliation.

We can take it.

-Nolan

12:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm the anon, and Topher Crowder from the other forum. I just cant figure out the log in thingy. But anyways, things i've seen this year that remind me of examples are....That Josh Smith crap (paintings of his name) at the Hillberry gallery. Most of the stuff at the Cass Cafe. Was at a show at the 555 a while back that was simply craptacular. Most of my fellow MFA students at WSU have no real talent and shouldnt be wasting thier money. That Camilo show at CPOP should be taken down and burned. The last Niagra show was a joke and one should not base one's resume on the fact that they know iggy pop. Maybe I'm very bitter, but does anyone else feel this way. Frankly i'm tired of tasting the bile that rises to my throat when i see "art" that shouldnt be.

12:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

TC here, i ment BFA WSU students NOT MFA. Wishfull thinking.

12:52 PM  
Anonymous topher said...

Sorry to be chatty but I have seen good shows, dont get me wrong. Its just that they are very few and in between. Example, the last 2 shows at the gallery project were strong group shows. The last show at CCS center gallery was impressive. CPOP's charles wish show was spectacular. DAM last 2 years had some great shows.

12:56 PM  
Anonymous topher said...

Being a soon to graduate art student, i've probablly burnt more than a few bridges today. But thats my point, around here, every one is an artist. Even the critics. Say something bad about a show and your blacklisted. Print something bad about a show and you lose advertising dollars because your paper is free and doesnt rely on subscriptions. If the metro times cut the tranny prostitute adds and bar adverts and focused only on creative critisizim (sic) of the music and art world of detroit, i bet they could charge 3 bucks a week for thier paper. I know i'd pay that much for honest reviews.

1:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

don't worry about what you said, this is a big world, and there are plenty more bridges to burn, even outside of Detroit (gasp), also nolan you are just as anonymous as anonymous because i don't know who the hell you are or care, i am interested in what you might say though, because it is the basis for this conversation. I don't understand the retaliation comment though.

1:09 PM  
Anonymous Nolan Simon said...

Topher...I agree with your assessment of CPop's shows as of late, though I partially disagree with you about the Wayne BFA show at 555. I've been aware of Kristen Bevan, Mike Bizon, and Nate Kuznia (sp?) for a while now, and I like where they're headed. I definitely wouldn't be worried too much about burning bridges. Like I've said before, none of us have careers worth worrying about...myself included. Everyone worth their salt should be eager to accept honest *constructive* (i.e. not malicious) criticism for the sake of progress.

That said, the fact that "that Josh Smith crap" is so highly regarded should give you pause...maybe it's not his crap that is really bothersome. I'm much more inclined to believe it's our unaccustomed eye rather than his lack of talent. I don't really like those paintings either, but I can't be sure that I won't in a month or so. The most exciting developments in art today are happening on the border between udder crap and powerful aesthetic insight. The difference is increasingly hard to detect, and therefore all the more crucial.

-Nolan

1:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ann,
I too wss bored by the metro times review--not that is was bad, but who cares about Judy Pfaff?
As one critic for the Los Angeles Times told me personally,"Of course I accept dinners and gifts, I don't get paid that much."

3:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The most exciting developments in art today are happening on the border between udder crap and powerful aesthetic insight. The difference is increasingly hard to detect, and therefore all the more crucial.

4:00 PM  
Anonymous topher said...

http://www.detroitartsblog.proboards76.com/index.cgi?board=general&action=display&thread=1137088067

link to reply in forum

4:03 PM  
Anonymous poptart said...

I agree that much art criticism is merely descriptive. This is even more true of exhibit reviews, which are shorter forms of criticism, and otherwise not essentially different. The reason that art critics don’t delve far into judging art is that there is no standard of evaluation. For more than a hundred years now, art has been fracturing itself in a freefall after the major institutions of western civilization were undermined by Darwinism and industrialization. This fracturing produced some brilliant but short lived movements which ultimately, say by the 70’s, resulted in pluralism. Pluralism is the coexistence of a number of approaches to art making, with no one approach dominant. This relativism has made it impossible to determine what good art is and what bad art is. Therefore, one can merely describe. In art school, formal criticism is the easy way to talk about art but, helpful as it is to the student, in the end it is only a prescription for good design. That’s what Greenberg ended up with. The alternative to formalism is usually some form of expressionism, but its subjectivity offers no consistent basis for value judgment. Since Minimalism and Pop mainstream contemporary art has been infected by Conceptualism (the dematerialization of art.) Presumably this trend has sought to purify art by emphasizing its content, or idea. However, it only further isolates art from culture. It does not arise from culture. Like all modern art it is media driven. I maintain that art is and always has been essentially ornamental. Maybe in the past it also had a meaningful relationship to the culture from which it arose, but that’s hardly true now. The best (read: clever) of you demonstrate exquisite taste, so get over it. It beats working for a living.

10:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

poptart, what does conceptualism does not arise from culture mean?

2:56 PM  
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4:16 PM  

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