Rant 57: Art Writing or Writing About Art?

Rant 57: Art Writing or Writing About Art? Caroline Wright, Speaking Writing, 2010. Neon. 100cm x 100cm. Credit: Caroline Wright

What is the future of art criticism? Is there a tokenism around art writing that has resulted in the re-hashing of press releases? Has the immediacy of blogging helped or hindered 'critical writing'? Writer David Berridge looks at some of the ups and downs of writing in the art world.

Debates about the end or future of art criticism seem less frequent lately. Maybe we’ve all accepted a new ‘embedded’ critical practice. Maybe friendly artist interviews are enough. Maybe the press release turned out to be an infinitely rewarding form.

Actually, a new kind of writer has emerged. Less en route to Frieze or Art Monthly (who seem off the map of this new activity), than its own form of artistic practice, which seems a tricky notion for some, if not the writers themselves.

Recently exhibitions, festivals and arts organisations have offered opportunities for writers. Sometimes these are well supported, financially and creatively; other times, it’s the writer equivalent of employing visual artists to brighten up the toilets.

’It's good to have critical debate’ I am told. I now respond to this (inside) like it’s an insult, code for no real sense of what writing is for, its traditions and possibilities, the variety of relationships writing can have to the artwork.

People say this, then go and hold a competition for the best 800 word review. Or they replace ‘writer’ with ‘roving reporter’ and insist on near instantaneous blogging.

Incidentally, I think the New Journalism/reporter figure is returning to art writing in intriguing new manifestations, but that’s another story (and one historically dependent on close editor-writer relationships).

We’re at a much more primitive level, which could be good. Why mar the excitement about these writing practices with platitudes about critical engagement, when you just want PR? The conditions of embeddedness mean we might write PR too, but only as part of our own grappling with context, language and livelihood.

Which is to say, reality bites, it’s good to be part of all this, the figuring out what it means and does.

Contributed by David Berridge

David Berridge is a writer based in London.

The views expressed in The Rant are those of David Berridge and forum contributors and unless specifically stated are not those of Axisweb. See our terms and conditions                 


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