In conjunction with frieze’s summer issue, which looks at art’s currency within the wider culture, we asked art critics and editors of cultural publications and media to tell us how they see the role of art criticism in mainstream media today, and how they view the impact of their writing on their audience.
What purpose do you think your criticism serves? Do you write with a particular audience in mind?
Karen Archey Editor-at-Large, Rhizome New York, USA
In a recent conversation with an editor of a well-known art news website, I asked why they don’t run reviews. ‘No one wants to read reviews,’ he replied, ‘they generally never get any hits.’ The website features headlines such as ‘Is Laurel Nakadate Sleeping With James Franco?’ and ‘Our Favourite Mean Things Said Against Dale Chihuly’. In a moment of sheer masochism, I asked friends and colleagues on Twitter whether they read art reviews for leisure. Though the audience I pooled was a fairly broad one, they’re primarily involved with Internet-related art practices, and read publications ranging from Rhizome to Artforum. Do they ever, I wondered, read reviews for the sake of personal betterment, even if they have no personal or professional motivation to do so?
Not only was the answer resoundingly ‘no’, but it seems as if the answer was quite opposite of what a critic might hope: those who responded to my call only tend to read reviews to either ‘see how bad the writing is’, witness the public castigation of a fellow artist, or in simpler terms, to ‘hate-read’. If my own community – which is also by and large the audience for my writing – openly admits to not reading criticism to learn anything about the art at hand (education being a primary impetus for my writing), what is my purpose as an art critic? The answer for myself – and I believe for many others – remains to be seen.
Karen Archey gives by far the longest and most considered response in this series so far (this is only half of it), but her grim prognosis is still more encouraging than the glib platitudes you get from everybody else.
I am a designer, researcher, and educator. This blog contains thoughts on electronic, experimental, emerging media art & design. I also contribute to the Emergent Digital Practices, Humane Games, and Critical Toys tumblrs. I try not to repeat posts among them.