Friday, September 16, 2005

In preparation for the fall VAP Art Criticism events, I will be running three discussions, open to everyone in the SAIC community.

These discussions will be held in Michigan 707

1. Open discussion of the state of art criticism
Friday September 30, 4:30 - 5:30, place TBA

Everyone is invited to talk about the current condition of art criticism. Does criticism matter? Is there enough criticism, either in School or outside it? Who are the most interesting critics?
I will introduce this fall's VAP events, and talk about what led up to them.

2. Reading group on art criticism
Same day, same place, 5:30 - 7:00

This is the first of two reading groups in preparation for the VAP public roundtable, "States of Art Criticism," which will be October 11. The roundtable will be published as a book. Also in the book there will be another roundtable that was held this last spring in Ireland. The transcript of the roundtable is being read by all the participants of the October roundtable. In this reading group we will discuss the roundtable in Ireland and the background of the SAIC event.

If you'd like to come please email,

3. Reading group on at criticism
Tuesday October 4, 4:30 - 6:00, place TBA

This is the second of two reading groups in preparation for the VAP public roundtable, "States of Art Criticism." In this group, we will read essays by the critics who will be attending the October roundtable. If you'd like to come please email,, for the readings.

4:35 AM


at September 16, 2005 4:39 AM Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
at September 17, 2005 2:54 AM Anonymous said...

would there be art crticism without Dave Hickey?

at October 02, 2005 6:52 AM Levi Smith said...

Oct.1, 2005


What follows are my thoughts on the roundtable discussion.

I. The forms of criticism that already exist in art history.
1. Perhaps enlarge on what you mean by “forms.” Approaches, methodologies, critical theorization or lack there of, vehicles (exhibitions, exhibition pamphlets and catalogs, monographs, cultural studies, reviews of same, etc)?
2. Perhaps this should be historicized a bit by a discussion of the history of the ‘critical historians of art’ and the influx of critical theory and disciplines into art history after 1960 or so, not to mention the social/economic/political conditions under which this occurred.
3. Is critical “collaboration” really any different from good old-fashioned advocacy?
4. How is the “threshold” of interpretation for art historians recognized, and how is it different from that of critics? Presumably critics are allowed to be more “engaged” but if so,. at what point does their activity itself become art, thus requiring its own criticism?
5. Say more about exhibitions and curatorial practice as criticism: There are serious institutional restrictions (most often NOT acknowledged) on what can be done at the (major) museum level. University and private galleries obviously have greater freedom (though with their own (often untheorized) criteria.
6. Over the past 40 years museum curators and directors have been increasingly university trained professional art historians. How has this affected the variety and quality of exhibitions and catalogs, not to mention relations with collectors and the process of acquisition?
II. The place of art criticism in pedagogical institutions
1. Is your question itself simply part of an inevitable process of professionalizing and academiicization that has progressed from art history to art and now to art criticism?
2. Analogous to your critique of Visual Studies as theoretically suspect and (maybe) unnecessary; WD’s comment re Critical Studies is apt—Why isn’t a degree in Critical studies with concentration in the visual arts sufficient?
3. Part of theorizing criticism must be to analyze who it is for and what it does. Neither of these receive much attention in this discussion.
4. I think BG’s idea about studying the “mechanisms” of contemporary art (and criticism) is very good and could be elaborated.
III. The place of judgment
1. The reluctance to acknowledge judgment, let alone its primacy is of great significance. I think it would be useful to have critics prejudices, both positive and negative brought out into the open and discussed whether they be aesthetic, philosophic, political, or whatever.
2. What does BG mean by “phenomenological criteria?” How, as he defines it, is it different from descriptive, prescriptive criticism?
3. Is there any real difference between plus and minus and one and zero code except for the implicit denial of judgment (which is again already accomplished by choice).
4. Does making judgment implicit (outside the text—but obviously a condition of its existence) imply that the reader is one who understands and accepts that judgment, or is it a way to seduce oppositional readers into accepting the writer’s argument?
5. Another form of implicit restriction (or definition of the reader) is the use of extremely opaque, heavily theorized discourse (GP’s point at the end).
6. You raise an interesting question about the influence of academic art on journalists (19-20). I’d like to hear more about the “several removes” that separate the two, and how one moves between them (curators and museum educators could be useful here). This is of course part of the larger issue of recognizing an expanded (more complete) field of criticism—from un-theorized newspaper journalism to October boilerplate.
7. B.G. mentions connecting an artwork “with certain ethical or political positions, then directing the reader’s gaze toward aspects…that make this work problematic, controversial or naïve.” These are useful elaborations of negative evaluation. Perhaps the panel could expand on the categories (rings of purgatory?) to which poor art is consigned, and, conversely, the ascending ladder of distinctions awarded the strong (successful?) artwork.
8. JF rejects making judgments if “ by this is meant value judgments that primarily serve market interests.” Is “primarily” the important word here? Otherwise it seems naïve not to recognize that critical discourse inevitably serves market interests—which was admitted earlier in the discussion with the observation that even negative criticism serves to publicize the artist.
9. What WD says about “progressive ideological critique” being undermined (23) is interesting. I would like to hear more about how it has “tailored itself to the social reality of the academy, the art world, and progressive politics.”
10. I think it would be good to return to the October roundtable. The reluctance to discuss it might be related to the problem of teaching art criticism in the academy (lack of theorization) and to the ‘boundaries’ that critics (but not art historians) can cross. The characterization of that discussion as “dogmatic” may be related to the reluctance of the panel to consider themselves part of an ‘institution’, however un-theorized.

IV. What counts as art criticism?
1. GB’s comments about “those incredibly irritating placards” written by Museum Ed. Depts. also should be addressed. What level of textual interpretation should museums, galleries, etc. display? What about the widespread adoption of audio tour guides with their implicit (selection of objects) and explicit (expressions of importance, significance, etc.) criticism, not to mention their evident popularity with visitors?
2. The ‘different functions’ of dvarious forms of art crit (WD’s comment as interpreted by you) is important I think to any analysis of what “counts.”
2. Finally, the description of the artist who used music and personal expression to enlarge the space of critical discourse reminded me of TV and radio art coverage and its use of music and (in the case of tv) visuals to present art. If we are concerned with the scope of address of criticism, (BIG audience) these need to be examined as well.

Thanks for organizing this forum--I look forward to Tuesday’s discussion!

Levi Smith

at June 09, 2009 8:03 AM Rondell said...

Will there be refreshments at this event?