Critical Condition, has big money replaced the pundit as the true authority in the art world?

I just finished reading Adrian Searle‘s insightful rant on the role of the art critic and criticism in the art world today. Searle’s article appeared in The Guardian on March 18, 2008.

Here are just a few paragraphs I want to share:

“Writing about art only matters because art deserves to be met with more than silence (although ignoring art – not speaking about it, not writing about it – is itself a form of criticism, and probably the most damning and effective one). An artist’s intentions are one thing, but works themselves accrue meanings and readings through the ways they are interpreted and discussed and compared with one another, long after the artist has finished with them. This, in part, is where all our criticisms come in. We contribute to the work, remaking it whenever we go back to it – which doesn’t prevent some artworks not being worth a first, never mind a second look, and some opinions not being worth listening to at all.”

“In the end, we are all critics. Listen to the babble of conversation as you leave the cinema or the theatre, or to the chat in the gallery. People argue about what they have experienced and about what the critics have said. This is good. But some voices might be worth attending to more than others, just as some artists, some playwrights, moviemakers, composers, choreographers are better than others. The fact that we can’t all agree on what is valuable (and why) keeps things interesting. It also keeps criticism alive.”

“Some things are not easy to grasp. We have to work at them. This, in part, is what criticism tries to do. It is also where a lively engagement with the art we encounter begins. And it is where we all begin to be critics.”

This timely article comes after a lovely luncheon with my friend Sheri yesterday and our discussion about criticism and the role it plays.

Here is what I wrote in my Arts Writers Grant proposal:

“Writing about contemporary visual art is my passion. Writing about art completes the artistic process by providing an intelligent viewer reaction. I strive to write informed observation and make judgments that are more than just opinion.”

“Being an art critic in a small town requires sensitivity. Situating aesthetic objects within their broader social and political context does not win one friends. But then, that’s not the goal. Honest, thoughtful reviewing withstands the test of time. My job as an art reviewer is to educate readers and help them understand work with which they may not be familiar. My writing is not academic, but it is educated, insightful and bridges between the historic and the current.”

This is the role. This is what I strive for. Not to be some authoritative voice, but to be one intelligent voice in the discussion and to keep the discussion going, because if we aren’t talking about the art, about the shows, about what is happening culturally in our communities then it is all irrelevant and pointless.

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