Rant 63: Critical Distance

Rant 63: Critical Distance Michael Cousin, Retcon 1: Suicidal Munchkin, 2011

Can anyone do the job of art critic? Should writers think twice about giving bad reviews, potentially damaging an artist's career? And who are they written for anyway?

So, you want to be an art critic? You’ll need an unshakeable surety of your own opinions and steelycojones. Remember it’s easier to write a bad review than a good one, and the vast majority are mediocre. 

When they aren’t entertaining, do broadsheet art reviews serve a purpose other than documentation? 

And apart from those being reviewed (and their posse), who actually reads them? They spoil the surprise in advance of seeing a show. 

Then again, I’m impatient and skip exhibition and wall texts too. Naughty I know.

Guardian critic Jonathan Jones, or ‘JJ’ to fans, admits that the process of art-judging requires a good dose of arrogance and boils down to a refreshingly honest ‘feeling in one’s bones’. 

He argues that critics are ‘born not made’, with the duty to air their (God given?) views on art and sod the rest. 

Though I tire of his wistful and sometimes misplaced references to Renaissance artists when discussing contemporary art, I do agree that there’s a band of ubiquitous yet weak artists who are relentlessly talked up in the press.

It also takes an admirable strength of character to publish fierce reviews whilst continuing to enjoy the perks. 

There are those who give up their critical independence, preferring to keep people onside rather than ripping them to shreds in the press. 

Making art that stands up to one’s own criticism is much harder than slating that of others. Of course many critics are artists too, having trained and taught at art schools before turning to professional writing. 

It may be the softening from life’s wear and tear that leads me to conclude that it’s not worth airing savage and subjective views at the expense of other people’s feelings. 

Though we all enjoy the harsh ones (and resulting fallout), JJ should take note of this article in the Taipei Times

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