Enough criticism to go around

Post from Dan Schimmel

[This post is part of an uninterrupted thread that began with a post from Roberta Nov. 30.]


Duchamp said “taste is the enemy of art” (image, Schimmel’s “Albino,” oil on canvas, 56″ x 57″).

In response to Ted Mosher’s response, and the Artblog’s response to Ted, it seems to me that there are, indeed, a few critics in the city who seem over-governed by self interest, private agenda and personal affiliations to whatever curator or institution they favor.

But for the most part, I think the majority of this city’s critical review spreads the wealth as evenly as they can, without taking it to the point where they just report on anything — that’s what the gallery listings are for!

And in this day and age, and in this city, it’s for the artist to promote him or herself successfully enough to ensure that their exhibit gets listed with as much information as possible.

As for critics, they should feel a personal stake in what they write and therefore there has to be a ‘connect’ to what they look at. Not everything deserves published critique. I’m all for tougher critical reviews. Stop all the back patting and dancing around the egos of the artists and the institutional powers that be. There’s enough of ass kissing, ego, and exclusive cliques in this city’s art scene, but I guess that’s reality for any city and any scene. You invest a lot of time and energy to be part of it or you are not.

The real failure is that of this city’s publications, especially the Philadelphia Inquirer! You can’t ask a critic to cover everything; you have to employ a diversity of critical opinions. This way, the literary elite institutions can best present the full spectrum of the visually elite art scene, and in doing so, at very least create the potential for more common dialog to disseminate into the ranks of the masses who either give a damn about what’s written enough to go see what was seen, or don’t. In the end, we all hope interest swells.

This city’s publication management teams seem to have decided there is not enough public interest in visual art to invest in more critical opinion and extend the space given to critical review. Either that, or they don’t have enough interest in it. The two real questions are, is there enough good art in Philly worth critiquing? And is there enough interest in the the critical conversation to employ it at all? My guess is most likely it would be the same 200 or so people who would routinely read. Which is not a justification for fewer critics. In fact, more quality critics critiquing might build readership and interest!

This Artblog is a beautiful thing in many respects. It is a continuous fount of art talk that sustains and engages and connects community in an underground way. It is also free and accessible (provided you have Internet access and a computer screen). And hopefully by cultivating community it expands audience through readership. Didn’t Philip Guston predict that art was going to have to go through a secret society phase, like a cult of interest? –not elite so much as an open club for those who are alive and struggling and hungry to nourish and lay paths to their internal landscape and coordinates and not just to gain ground in a social scene and not just to stay in a holding pattern of relative celebrity.

Maybe what we lack are critics with definite agendas and opinions that are forceful and unforgiving?! Maybe critics dilute the discourse if they put too much mental effort into being democratic in how they choose what they choose to write about? More reason to employ more critics. But with that said, I’d rather read the weekly column of one very sharp very informed critic who is not afraid to ruffle big roosters’ feathers (or for that matter, little chicks’), than daily reviews of inconsequential art serviced by inconsequential reviews to appease inconsequential egos.

And then the final questions is, is art, in this day and age, really of any consequence, anyway??? And should we expect it to be? And if we do, what kind of consequence is art really capable of?


–Dan Schimmel, artist, curator and director of the Esther Klein Gallery in West Philadelphia is currently exhibiting large paintings of his own at Freedman Gallery at Albright College in Reading, Pa.