Critical condition (LA Times)

Posted by Marisa Olson | Sun May 22nd 2005 11:24 a.m.

From today's LA Times, an article on the every-debated "status" ofcriticism, given blogs, anti-intellectualism, etc...
Critical conditionOnce almighty arbiters of American taste, critics find their power atebb tide. Is it a dark time for the arts, or the dawn of a new age? By Scott Timberg, Times Staff Writer
In the 1950 movie "All About Eve," the theater critic is a dapper,cynical charmer with the Old World moniker Addison DeWitt. He's nohero, but his wry assessments can make or break a production.Characters repeat his phrases throughout the film, in both scornfuland reverent tones.
Almost a half-century later, the television show "The Critic"presented an animated schlemiel, paunchy and balding, voiced by thenerdy comic endomorph Jon Lovitz. This character's influence on theworld in which he lives is nonexistent: His impact comes down toserving as the butt of jokes.
Does the 1994-95 series tell us something about the way Americans viewthose who make cultural judgments for a living? In the decade sincethat show's run, many critics report, they've gotten even lessrespect. Or ceased to matter entirely.
"You gets arts journalists together these days," says Doug McLennan,editor of Arts Journal.com and a longtime Seattle music writer, "andit's what they talk about: their declining influence. They say FrankRich was the last critic who could close a show." Most remember whenTime and Newsweek had full rosters of arts critics.
What happened? Besides the Internet and its rash of blogs, suspectedculprits include the culture of celebrity, anti-intellectual populism,stingy newspaper owners and what some critics say is a loss ofvitality or visibility in their art forms. While many lament thesituation, some think the decentralization of authority means the arts
  • Jim Andrews | Sun May 22nd 2005 5:22 p.m.
    Thanks for Scott Timberg's "Critical Condition" at
    http://www.calendarlive.com/galleriesandmuseums/cl-ca-critics22may22,0,42636
    05.story?coll=cl-home-

    The relation between artist and critic has always been tense.

    But what is at stake? What's a critic good for besides pr and trading in the
    market of reputation?

    Walt Whitman said "great art demands a great audience".

    There's something at stake to a great audience in what art does. Besides
    entertainment. What is it? Ezra Pound said that "art is news that stays
    news." Note how that idea references both the contemporary and beyond the
    contemporary. Contemporary art can be intensely relevant to what's happening
    now, but it's aware of the larger contexts of the events that continue to
    reverberate through the corridors of eternal existence. Whether you think of
    the corridors as in The Shining or Myst or whatever.

    A great audience is involved in the construction of the meaning of a work of
    art. There's the obelisk. And then there's the story it is part of. Works of
    art may tell stories, but they're also involved with everyone in the culture
    doing their bit to impart insight and meaning to contemporary life.

    It isn't that the critic is irrelevant. It's that the culture cannot bear to
    look.

    The below quote from Timberg's article (he is quoting Andras Szanto) misses
    the enduring point of criticism.

    "In fact, anything now can be art, from a ray of light to a bit of feces in
    a plastic box. But it has ultimately enfeebled the critic in that
    traditional chest-thumping, oracular way, where he or she can prescribe or
    pass judgment. If the very premise of the art world is that anything goes,
    what do you base judgments on?"

    Criticism isn't just about judgements on the value of art. It's also about
    taking the poetics further, unfolding it, engaging with it, seeing where it
    works as an instrument of thought and feeling and insight and where it
    doesn't. Seeing what the poetics implies.

    Thanks for pointing out the article, Marisa. Very interesting and worth
    reading!

    ja
    http://vispo.com
  • Marisa Olson | Sun May 22nd 2005 9:52 p.m.
    Jim, thanks for your comments.

    I think there are a few other/additional points to make. They all sort
    of revolve around the fact that the relationship between the critic
    and the audience is often polarized. This, to me, is unfortunate,
    becomes it places the critic in the position of being expected to
    "bring something" to the work that the "audience" does not. It also
    not only unfairly deitizes the critic, but it leaves artists making
    work for critics and not for audiences. I agree that the critic should
    be more involved in an unpacking of poetics than a passsing of
    judgement (though many of us have to cop to passing judgement as a
    result of a work's poetics, or lack thereof). But I think that a
    reading of the rhetoric of a work (in any medium) has to consider how
    the work positions itself in relation to its audience. When the critic
    is divorced from the audience, no such reading can occur.

    There's come to be an interesting situation vis a vis the criticism of
    media art, under the influence of a number of factors... In general,
    there is a lack of viable arts publications as sustaining one in this
    economic climate is difficult. Media arts publications are even harder
    to come by, and most of those pay poorly if at all. For these reasons
    and others (not the least of which is the perceived novelty of the
    field and resultant dissonance), there is a lack of seasoned, educated
    media arts critics. A look at recent NY Times pieces on new media art
    (or the lack thereof) will provide a good example. The few good
    writers do not seem to be getting assignments and one less-good writer
    has unfortunately been given more there, lately, but all in all,
    coverage is minimal. We've thrown ourselves into a self-critiquing
    system which is wildly disproportionate in relation to, well, all
    kinds of things... Some of us are over-educated and under-informed,
    some of us look at a lot of work and can't find a means of critiquing
    it, others of us are daunted by the technical and philosophical
    vocabularies that pervade our field. The many processes of
    appropriation, sampling, and reiteration that have come to make so
    many great media artworks great does not make the system of critique
    any more cohesive, wherein those who don't know their art history are
    doomed to misrepeat it. There are, particularly on this list, a
    handful of seriously talented, intelligent, and well-versed critics,
    and so many of them are struggling against production barriers and
    within faulty communication channels, so that the flow of ideas and
    meaningful exchanges all to often becomes buried under other forms of
    labor, if not under animosity and competition within the pecking order
    of a rank struggling for classification.

    My hope is that this will just get better with time, with pedagogy,
    with the long view, etc.

    Marisa

    On 5/22/05, Jim Andrews <jim@vispo.com> wrote:
    > Thanks for Scott Timberg's "Critical Condition" at
    > http://www.calendarlive.com/galleriesandmuseums/cl-ca-critics22may22,0,42636
    > 05.story?coll=cl-home-
    >
    > The relation between artist and critic has always been tense.
    >
    > But what is at stake? What's a critic good for besides pr and trading in the
    > market of reputation?
    >
    > Walt Whitman said "great art demands a great audience".
    >
    > There's something at stake to a great audience in what art does. Besides
    > entertainment. What is it? Ezra Pound said that "art is news that stays
    > news." Note how that idea references both the contemporary and beyond the
    > contemporary. Contemporary art can be intensely relevant to what's happening
    > now, but it's aware of the larger contexts of the events that continue to
    > reverberate through the corridors of eternal existence. Whether you think of
    > the corridors as in The Shining or Myst or whatever.
    >
    > A great audience is involved in the construction of the meaning of a work of
    > art. There's the obelisk. And then there's the story it is part of. Works of
    > art may tell stories, but they're also involved with everyone in the culture
    > doing their bit to impart insight and meaning to contemporary life.
    >
    > It isn't that the critic is irrelevant. It's that the culture cannot bear to
    > look.
    >
    > The below quote from Timberg's article (he is quoting Andras Szanto) misses
    > the enduring point of criticism.
    >
    > "In fact, anything now can be art, from a ray of light to a bit of feces in
    > a plastic box. But it has ultimately enfeebled the critic in that
    > traditional chest-thumping, oracular way, where he or she can prescribe or
    > pass judgment. If the very premise of the art world is that anything goes,
    > what do you base judgments on?"
    >
    > Criticism isn't just about judgements on the value of art. It's also about
    > taking the poetics further, unfolding it, engaging with it, seeing where it
    > works as an instrument of thought and feeling and insight and where it
    > doesn't. Seeing what the poetics implies.
    >
    > Thanks for pointing out the article, Marisa. Very interesting and worth
    > reading!
    >
    > ja
    > http://vispo.com
    >
    >
    >
    > +
    > -> post: list@rhizome.org
    > -> questions: info@rhizome.org
    > -> subscribe/unsubscribe: http://rhizome.org/preferences/subscribe.rhiz
    > -> give: http://rhizome.org/support
    > -> visit: on Fridays the Rhizome.org web site is open to non-members
    > +
    > Subscribers to Rhizome are subject to the terms set out in the
    > Membership Agreement available online at http://rhizome.org/info/29.php
    >
  • Jim Andrews | Sun May 22nd 2005 11:25 p.m.
    Polarization" seems to be a key word in the current climate, doesn't it.
    Not only between 'critic' and 'artist', perhaps, as you point out, but also
    more broadly in society. Not only in matters of politics but also concerning
    the distribution of wealth and the availability of good education, access to
    knowledge and training in it, despite the rise of the Internet.

    In this sad state of affairs, digital art is situated. Sometimes it is quite
    remote. Art for the monied. Yet on the net, where there is a world of
    people, just who it is for is often mysterious, and the audience is among
    the educated.

    The really popular computer art is entertainment oriented and as savage as
    the day (is long). Counter Strike, for example. A global network playing
    terrorist versus counter-terrorist shooting at one another 24x7x365.25.

    Even within net.art the divisions and rivalries are acrimonious.

    It seems like there's a lot of work to do. The critics can be very useful in
    this regard.

    ja
    http://vispo.com

    > -----Original Message-----
    > From: Marisa S. Olson [mailto:marisaso@gmail.com]
    > Sent: May 22, 2005 8:52 PM
    > To: jim@vispo.com; list@rhizome.org
    > Subject: Re: RHIZOME_RAW: Critical condition (LA Times)
    >
    >
    > Jim, thanks for your comments.
    >
    > I think there are a few other/additional points to make. They all sort
    > of revolve around the fact that the relationship between the critic
    > and the audience is often polarized. This, to me, is unfortunate,
    > becomes it places the critic in the position of being expected to
    > "bring something" to the work that the "audience" does not. It also
    > not only unfairly deitizes the critic, but it leaves artists making
    > work for critics and not for audiences. I agree that the critic should
    > be more involved in an unpacking of poetics than a passsing of
    > judgement (though many of us have to cop to passing judgement as a
    > result of a work's poetics, or lack thereof). But I think that a
    > reading of the rhetoric of a work (in any medium) has to consider how
    > the work positions itself in relation to its audience. When the critic
    > is divorced from the audience, no such reading can occur.
    >
    > There's come to be an interesting situation vis a vis the criticism of
    > media art, under the influence of a number of factors... In general,
    > there is a lack of viable arts publications as sustaining one in this
    > economic climate is difficult. Media arts publications are even harder
    > to come by, and most of those pay poorly if at all. For these reasons
    > and others (not the least of which is the perceived novelty of the
    > field and resultant dissonance), there is a lack of seasoned, educated
    > media arts critics. A look at recent NY Times pieces on new media art
    > (or the lack thereof) will provide a good example. The few good
    > writers do not seem to be getting assignments and one less-good writer
    > has unfortunately been given more there, lately, but all in all,
    > coverage is minimal. We've thrown ourselves into a self-critiquing
    > system which is wildly disproportionate in relation to, well, all
    > kinds of things... Some of us are over-educated and under-informed,
    > some of us look at a lot of work and can't find a means of critiquing
    > it, others of us are daunted by the technical and philosophical
    > vocabularies that pervade our field. The many processes of
    > appropriation, sampling, and reiteration that have come to make so
    > many great media artworks great does not make the system of critique
    > any more cohesive, wherein those who don't know their art history are
    > doomed to misrepeat it. There are, particularly on this list, a
    > handful of seriously talented, intelligent, and well-versed critics,
    > and so many of them are struggling against production barriers and
    > within faulty communication channels, so that the flow of ideas and
    > meaningful exchanges all to often becomes buried under other forms of
    > labor, if not under animosity and competition within the pecking order
    > of a rank struggling for classification.
    >
    > My hope is that this will just get better with time, with pedagogy,
    > with the long view, etc.
    >
    > Marisa
  • ryan griffis | Mon May 23rd 2005 12:14 a.m.
    Jim and Marisa both make very thoughtful statements on the issues
    brought up in this article in my eyes...
    my questions about it, other than those raised by both of them, are why
    a discourse around the "death of criticism" (or art, or net.art or
    whatever) makes any sense to anyone. i mean, if Greenberg represented
    the epitome of high criticism, that was only 50 years ago. how can that
    even be given the status of a tradition that could expire?
    i think it could be useful to look at all of this in terms of the
    political and psychological economy in which it operates... not that i
    have such an analysis. but it seems kind of convenient, and, as both
    Jim and Marisa allude to, highly complicit in commodity fetishism. if
    we look at the "rise" of blogs and the "decline" of print, it's easy to
    miss the continuities that create stability, as well as the small
    developments that create instability.
    i know it's more dramatic to look at deaths and ends and beginnings and
    such, but i think saying that critical discourse is dead because of
    technological change seems absurd. was it ever "alive" in that sense?
    i think Hickey's ego says it all:

    For Hickey, art criticism lost its luster and excitement the same
    timeart did. "There was a sense that things had a forward tilt," he
    saysof American art after World War II, when it seemed to be moving
    towarda consummation. "Jackson Pollock changed the way the world
    looked,Andy Warhol changed the way the world looked."
    But the high couldn't last forever, and the power went to the curators.
    "I'm like Wolfman Jack," Hickey groans. "The times have passed me by."

    how did JP or AW "change the way the world looked" exactly? how
    convenient to label oneself a visionary of the past (aligned with
    heroic notions of the male genius/rebel of course), that helped get us
    where we are, while simultaneously shirking any responsibility for it.
    Poor Dave.
    as the Minutemen (the band, not the xenophobes on the border) sang:
    "Maybe partying will help.
  • Eduardo Navas | Mon May 23rd 2005 1:12 a.m.
    Hi all,

    This is a rather interesting thread. I shall contribute my two cents.

    I just attended a conference at LACMA on Saturday, which included Christiane
    Paul, Andrea Fraser and Ricardo Dominguez amongst others. The conference
    was called "Institutional Critique." I will spare you the details and
    simply say that Andrea Fraser ended her presentation by stating that
    Institutional Critique was a failed project. Now, here we have another
    moment of an ending. Why?

    Part of it I believe has to do with the fact that the art institution is not
    able to understand how culture is changing with new technology and the new
    forms and possibilities for criticism that are arising due to the rapid
    exchange of information. The crisis of criticism that is entertained in the
    LA Times article is an attempt at controling discourse. It is a way of
    saying that there is too much noise and the filters are no longer
    functioning properly. Blogging has been one of the greatest problems for
    the institution of criticism. And what has the press done? The smart
    ones... Join them. Check Le Monde, Ils sont tres intelligent, aussi:
    http://www.lemonde.fr/web/blogs/0,39-0,48-0,0.html
    This newspaper is not only offering their newspaper correspondents' blogs,
    but also allow you to have your own blog. This is the next level of
    production/consumption. The French are allowing discourse to run, like
    Foucault would approve. The LA Times newspaper article is trying to control
    discourse because it sees criticism getting out of control and when
    something is out of control it is always better to proclaim it dead to
    regain control over it. This is what has been done with painting in the
    past and look where it is.

    Here is what I think about blogs from a previous piece I posted on NAR:
    http://www.netartreview.net/monthly/0305.3.html
    "Today, blogs follow the evolution of the newspaper writer, the newspaper
    reader, and the rise of the collaborator. Blogs have pushed the idea of the
    collaborator (as Benjamin saw it) in unexpected ways. For instance, because
    blogs function on a network (the Web which runs on the Internet), these are
    able to perform as platforms for not only feedback on printed media that is
    newspapers and magazines (which now also have online version of their
    publications), but also as places where to simply exchange ideas with other
    writers. Communities of bloggers (this is the name given to those who write
    on weblogs) flourished beginning around 1997;2 and recently, blogs have
    become an important part of the World Wide Web
  • Rob Myers | Mon May 23rd 2005 2:59 a.m.
    On Monday, May 23, 2005, at 07:23AM, ryan griffis <grifray@yahoo.com> wrote:

    >But the high couldn't last forever, and the power went to the curators.

    DJ #1: Are you going to the cinema tonight?
    DJ #2: I don't know, who's the projectionist?

    Curators are better subjects for criticism than artists because they better reflect the critical ego; it is easier for critics to see themselves in curators than in artists. This is where auteur theory comes from as well, and another reason why so many writers tolerate the most inept examples of installation and performance despite the general public's continuing disinterest.

    The main problem with criticism, as demonstrated by "Art Since 1900", is that art has become either irrelevent for or irritating to the actual practice of art criticism. It seems that art really needs throwing away and replacing with something better, something more amenable to criticism.

    In fact I think that critics would be even better subjects than curators and that art criticism would be that more amenable object, indeed the perfect object. Let criticism drown in its own reflection...

    For a more coherent argument, with some pointers on how to escape the current closed world of criticism, I highly recommend "What Happened To Art Criticism?" By James Elkins:

    http://www.prickly-paradigm.com/authors/elkins.html

    - Rob.
  • Jim Andrews | Thu May 26th 2005 5:26 p.m.
    Polarization" seems to be a key word in the current climate, doesn't it.
    Not only between 'critic' and 'artist', perhaps, as you point out, but also
    more broadly in society. Not only in matters of politics but also concerning
    the distribution of wealth and the availability of good education, access to
    knowledge and training in it, despite the rise of the Internet.

    In this sad state of affairs, digital art is situated. Sometimes it is quite
    remote. Art for the monied. Yet on the net, where there is a world of
    people, just who it is for is often mysterious, and the audience is among
    the educated.

    The really popular computer art is entertainment oriented and as savage as
    the day (is long). Counter Strike, for example. A global network playing
    terrorist versus counter-terrorist shooting at one another 24x7x365.25.

    Even within net.art the divisions and rivalries are acrimonious.

    It seems like there's a lot of work to do. The critics can be very useful in
    this regard.

    ja
    http://vispo.com

    > -----Original Message-----
    > From: Marisa S. Olson [mailto:marisaso@gmail.com]
    > Sent: May 22, 2005 8:52 PM
    > To: jim@vispo.com; list@rhizome.org
    > Subject: Re: RHIZOME_RAW: Critical condition (LA Times)
    >
    >
    > Jim, thanks for your comments.
    >
    > I think there are a few other/additional points to make. They all sort
    > of revolve around the fact that the relationship between the critic
    > and the audience is often polarized. This, to me, is unfortunate,
    > becomes it places the critic in the position of being expected to
    > "bring something" to the work that the "audience" does not. It also
    > not only unfairly deitizes the critic, but it leaves artists making
    > work for critics and not for audiences. I agree that the critic should
    > be more involved in an unpacking of poetics than a passsing of
    > judgement (though many of us have to cop to passing judgement as a
    > result of a work's poetics, or lack thereof). But I think that a
    > reading of the rhetoric of a work (in any medium) has to consider how
    > the work positions itself in relation to its audience. When the critic
    > is divorced from the audience, no such reading can occur.
    >
    > There's come to be an interesting situation vis a vis the criticism of
    > media art, under the influence of a number of factors... In general,
    > there is a lack of viable arts publications as sustaining one in this
    > economic climate is difficult. Media arts publications are even harder
    > to come by, and most of those pay poorly if at all. For these reasons
    > and others (not the least of which is the perceived novelty of the
    > field and resultant dissonance), there is a lack of seasoned, educated
    > media arts critics. A look at recent NY Times pieces on new media art
    > (or the lack thereof) will provide a good example. The few good
    > writers do not seem to be getting assignments and one less-good writer
    > has unfortunately been given more there, lately, but all in all,
    > coverage is minimal. We've thrown ourselves into a self-critiquing
    > system which is wildly disproportionate in relation to, well, all
    > kinds of things... Some of us are over-educated and under-informed,
    > some of us look at a lot of work and can't find a means of critiquing
    > it, others of us are daunted by the technical and philosophical
    > vocabularies that pervade our field. The many processes of
    > appropriation, sampling, and reiteration that have come to make so
    > many great media artworks great does not make the system of critique
    > any more cohesive, wherein those who don't know their art history are
    > doomed to misrepeat it. There are, particularly on this list, a
    > handful of seriously talented, intelligent, and well-versed critics,
    > and so many of them are struggling against production barriers and
    > within faulty communication channels, so that the flow of ideas and
    > meaningful exchanges all to often becomes buried under other forms of
    > labor, if not under animosity and competition within the pecking order
    > of a rank struggling for classification.
    >
    > My hope is that this will just get better with time, with pedagogy,
    > with the long view, etc.
    >
    > Marisa

    +
    -> post: list@rhizome.org
    -> questions: info@rhizome.org
    -> subscribe/unsubscribe: http://rhizome.org/preferences/subscribe.rhiz
    -> give: http://rhizome.org/support
    -> visit: on Fridays the Rhizome.org web site is open to non-members
    +
    Subscribers to Rhizome are subject to the terms set out in the
    Membership Agreement available online at http://rhizome.org/info/29.php
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