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Required Reading

This week, the Tonga eruption as captured from space, Boston gets a big gift of Dutch and Flemish painting, 30 years of New Queer Cinema, an important Marcel Breuer house is demolished, and much more.

Hannah Lee’s Dreamlike Realism

Being bowled over by an unknown artist’s first one-person show does not happen often but when it does, it renews your faith that the art world is not just about buzz and hype.

Edie Everette

Edie Everette (www.everettecartoons.com) was a fine artist for years until, impassioned by culture and politics, she became a full-time cartoonist. Her recently...

23 replies on “What Should Art Criticism Do?”

  1. Hi Edie, I’ve been enjoying your short strips here on Hyperallergic since ‘A Young Artist Seduced by Attention’ was posted, so I hope you wont take this the wrong way, but your lettering and text is sometimes very difficult to follow. You are of course under no obligation to listen to some nobody from the internet, but it might be helpful to make more consistent use of a lettering guide, maintain consistent letter-size within individual sentences, and keep text on solid-colored backgrounds. It’s particularly difficult to read the Oscar Wilde quote you’ve included, with each line curving at a slightly different angle and set against a background of very bright yellow and white.

    I hope that, apropos of this comic on criticism, such criticisms are not inappropriate. Your lettering conveys a very personal voice, so I hope that while my comments might be taken personally they will not be felt as a personal attack. I look forward to seeing your next offering here on Hyperallergic.

  2. More reading. Now only when I’ve completed them will I
    suppose I have an informed opinion and/or greater confusion. Why can’t I
    inject it all directly into my brain.. Can confident careers really be based on epiphanies and maxims?

  3. Art criticism should analyze art works made today in comparison with all that has proceeded, therefore inspiring future works with conceptual written fodder. It should be written with an awareness of the infinite perspective readers may approach it with–it should meet its readers and help them forward. It should be written with an awareness of its medium as relevant to the works it critiques.

    Art criticism should inspire non writers to write. It should debunk general reputations of snobbery and contrived omniscience.

    And, I agree with samktg on the lettering note.

        1. Architectural theorist and artist. You? I’d forgotten I wrote this comment, it is quite possible I was drinking at the time. Don’t really ever mean to be rude but my sense of humor definitely comes across thataway in text form sometimes.

          Besides that it’s a bad and old fashioned joke…suck a lemon? who says that anymore? I annoy myself sometimes. I guess that joke is in support of my position that we need to eviscerate our heroes if we are going to move forward.

          In that sense, criticism should evolve from conceptions of past works as it would be extremely difficult to judge without prejudice if everything is based on an arbitrary (and inherently biased) conception of monumentality, or memory. I rather think your comment: “Art criticism should inspire non writers to write. It should debunk general reputations of snobbery and contrived omniscience” is in concert with my thoughts, and (in black and white) an antithesis to your preceding paragraph.

  4. Hi Samktg,
    I wrote earlier but comments are not working from my phone! Thank you so much for the feedback. A fabulous editor (ha!) pointed this out weeks ago and I am slow to reckon with it. The whole point is for people to read it so…I will be more conscious of it from here out. Let me know how I’m doing in future! Yours, Edie

    1. A better solution, at least short-term, would be to ask the Hyperallergic digital team to include a button to click for a larger version (which would make the smaller letters easier to read, of course).

  5. Great comic.

    In my humble opinion, art criticism should be critical.
    Too much of what I read seems like a blatant PR piece drumming up hype for some project, or a launching pad for the critic to write about their own pet issues, using the artwork as little more than an excuse to start writing.

    I don’t have any issue with that kind of writing, I just have an issue with it being called “art criticism”.
    Call it what it is: “art advertising” and “art writing”.

    1. “Art advertising” or cheerleader criticism *is* a kind of criticism. When a critic uses 500 words to praise a show, that is 500 words they are not giving anything else. The art world is a shopping mall and doing takedowns of recent MFA grads in Brooklyn, or Gagosian booths in Miami, is just as much a waste of words as restating that Koons is obnoxious. Promote what is good and ingore what is bad. But just have an argument that what you promote is worthwhile.

      1. “Promote what is good and ignore what is bad.” Ah, the Buzzfeed approach to criticism.

        10 Good Reasons to Not Adopt the Buzzfeed Approach to Criticism
        1-10. Buzzfeed is a trash heap masquerading as a website.

        Seriously though, would you advocate for this kind of criticism in, say, politics? As obnoxious as you might find it, it is as important in the arts to adopt and share critical positions with an empirical basis on the “good” and the “bad” as it is in politics. Because art has political, social and economic implications, whether consciously adopting a particular ideology or not, criticism of the “bad” in art is all the more important.

        1. The only thing art and politics have in common is that they both employ quite a few a holes. “Politics” and “political” are two different things, thank god. One is pathic, the other is literal, boring, corrupt, egregiously ridiculous and the downfall of our race. The former is a forcefully cute way of telling the latter to fuck off.

          1. You are opining on the difference between art and politics and not the difference between politics and the political, yes? Your sentence structure makes this a little unclear. If I am parsing your comment correctly, it would seem you have a rather romantic perception of art. I enjoy romance as well – in art and elsewhere – but I think it is important to recognize that even a romance has implications for both “politics” and the “political.” The artist might be the last free individual, but the artist that wants a roof over their head and food in their stomach will find that their freedom is contingent upon the day-to-day affairs of their government and the relative diversity of political thought and expression their society will or will not tolerate. There is no disentangling art from politics.

          2. I meant to associate politics with politics and art with the political. I can see how you might have gotten that confused. Your argument suggests that for one, independently wealthy people cannot make art without a view to eating. Further, once an artist is successful, they cannot make art because they don’t have to worry about eating. Further still you disallow any art done without thought to political correctness, as if art only works within the confines of freedoms afforded by daily evolving political correctness, explicity disallowing dissenting art from the oeuvre of art generally. That’s crazy.

          3. Certainly an independently wealthy person may make art. Certainly an established artist may continue to make art. Certainly art may be made without a thought to politics or political ideology. In fact I tend to think that much of the art made with express political aims is incredibly boring. However, it is disingenuous to argue that art in any of the situations you posit exists outside of the organization and management of government and society. To insist otherwise is to suggest that art is culturally inert. This is not to say every work of art makes a political statement, every artist is an ideologue, but that every work of art and every artist is enmeshed in society and that the work of art and the history of an artist offer an insight into society’s structure. Quite often the least overtly or aware political art and artists give the greatest insight, as their seeming lack of politics is not infrequently a mirror to a society’s dominant political ideology.

          4. Thank you sir, for I certainly could not have articulated the difference between “politics” and “the political” myself.

        2. I’m sorry but that’s naive. The subject of art criticism is art, not merely politics, which, in its traditional understanding, is in the business of figuring out how people can live together. Which is to say politics is inherently a matter of ethical disputations. That isn’t art criticism, and art criticism, whatever it may be, is constrained to the few publications that deliver it and the editorial interests that give them voice and keep them afloat.

          The art criticism you want exists. You can find it in academic journals or most anything that calls itself “cultural studies,” bankrolled by academic institutions and grants. Grab a dictionary and dig in. Don’t expect it to come from for-profit publications, wether it be Hyperallergic or even Artforum. Writers who stick to positive reviews can move forward art they like, get it bought by collectors and museums, and change what you see on walls, define what gets thought of as good art. Ignoring bad art will, in the long run, make it go away, whether it be through filter of an editor or the test of time.

          1. I agree that art is the subject of art criticism. However, art plays an important role in how we live, how we have lived, and in suggesting how we might live together. By your own definition, art is political in the “traditional” understanding, which necessarily makes art criticism political, independent of the critic’s intent. Furthermore, if you had even a passing familiarity with the last several hundred years, hell, even the lass fifty years of art writing, you would know that moral and ethical disputation – what you call a matter of politics (again, we agree) – has long been integral to art criticism. October and other such journals do not today exercise a monopoly on the kind of art criticism I want, and they never have. To be honest, editors Hrag Vartanian, Jillian Steinhauer and Mostafa Heddaya provide quite a bit of criticism to my taste right here on Hyperallergic. Their attention to the political uses and abuses of art are what distinguishes Hyperallergic in my mind from cheerleaders and ego-strokers like Artforum, ArtInfo or the NYT’s Art & Design section. Hyperallergic isn’t ISR or Jacobin, but then I don’t expect them to be. Their subject is art and not politics, but their art criticism is often expressly political.

            Writers who stick to positive reviews are spineless. A stand for something is meaningless without a willingness to take a stand against something. Also, ignoring bad art does not make it disappear unless everyone else is ignoring it too. History simply does not bear out your argument. If you were correct no one apart from scholars would have more than a passing awareness of artists like Gauguin or Balthus, who each have oeuvres derived from the sexual exploitation (and certainly in the case of the former, sexual assault) of children.

            Apologies, but I rather think yours is the naive perspective.

  6. Criticism should be critical!
    Of course it’s only one persons take on things buy it’s desperately needed in todays (anything goes) art world.
    I’ve learned more from negative criticism than I ever learned from positive stuff.
    Bring it on! 🙂

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