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Piping up on art critics, those bums


[Editor’s note: This is a part of a thread about the state of art criticism in Philadelphia. The last post on this topic was here. You can follow it backwards from there.]

adkinsmusicrollAlthough I am in sympathy with the frustration expressed earlier about critics not covering things unless they can say something nice about it, I thought I’d give that point a somewhat different spin (right, Terry Adkins excellent “Off Minor”).

If a critic has limited time and space (and who doesn’t?) and must therefore choose which show to cover, it makes perfect sense for that critic to spend the ink on the show with greater merit and to ignore the show that’s less successful. Only if the show has standing in the community that is undeserved should the critic go out of the way to select the so-so show–eg. if the Art Museum has a show and its stinks.

I also think it’s not quite true that people writing about art in Philadelphia are not offering criticism. I often see pieces that make suggestions or note failings in artwork.

But what’s there to say about another impressionist painting? Lovely? Hang it in your living room? I’m not saying you shouldn’t hang it in your living room or that it’s not lovely. I’m just saying I don’t want to write about it or think about it. I’m going to leave that review to someone else. There’s plenty of art out there that’s not really bad; it’s just not so interesting because it’s not about the world that we live in today.

pollackautumnrhythmI’m also less interested in writing about good versus bad and more interested in deconstructing. So my audience isn’t necessarily the artist who made the work but viewers. I like to figure out why work is important and then share those insights.

I do believe that the more voices writing about art, the merrier, because just like I don’t like horror movies, I don’t like certain kinds of art. That’s how it is. I have a long-standing grudge against Richard Tuttle and against Donald Judd, and Jackson Pollack (left, Pollack’s “Autumn Rhythm”). This is not to say I have nothing to say about them. Take Pollack. I can say why he’s important and influential. I can say something about almost anything I see, but I’m not necessarily the best person on genres or artists I dislike. As Roberta said, guilty as charged. I have my biases. And so does Ed Sozanski in the Inquirer. But he’s the critic in town who is read the most widely, and I’d like to see the other voices around town get a wider audience to help counterbalance his biases.

I don’t think his biases are any worse than anyone else’s. But if his biases happen to go against your favorite genre, then local art coverage seems awful to you.

Columbia University’s Journalism Department did a huge study about art coverage and some of its conclusions are relevant to this discussion about Philadelphia: Nationwide, there’s more art out there but no commensurate increase in art coverage in the print media; the Internet is taking up the gap.

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