Why am I still writing about contemporary art?

© Artchive
Norman Rockwell "Coinoisseur" (1962)

In late November 2010, Foundation Center for Contemporary Art hosted the international project “Kyiv Offline: Art criticism in the age of instant access” that focused on the need to develop among critics in Ukraine a common understanding of the role of the contemporary art critic in an age of instant access to information. One of the results of the project was the compilation of essays by project participants on the critical situation in Ukraine today.

KORYDOR is joining the discussion on the role of art criticism and will publish a selection of texts written after Kyiv Offline. The complete collection of texts will be available soon on the Foundation CCA website.

In the past I was sure that job opportunities for graduates of the Academy of Arts only included museum work and publishing in academic journals. But since then, art has become, on the one hand, part of show business, and on the other hand, an area of “anti-aesthetics” and “pseudo-creativity” completely incomprehensible to most people. Viewers do not like contemporary art, it irritates them. And what they like brings critics to despair.

Since then, many things have changed: the n-th number of publications have disappeared and most art critics have ended up on the Web. But I see nothing wrong with this process. Now I know what is thought about contemporary art by hypocrites with active public positions and those who don’t care about anything, including art, though they will never run out of comments.

But we, critics, change as well. We accept all comments, we even welcome them, whatever they say; the main thing is that we have readers. And we have started to write in a different language; otherwise we won’t be understood by readers of glossy magazines, city guides and Internet portals.

The numbers and names of famous authors, collectors and gallery owners have increased in our articles and blogs. Editors demand a brief “what-where-when” and as much gossip and scandal as possible. More pictures, less text. For a TV-audience.

I am a professional art historian but I call myself an art critic, because I think art criticism is especially important in times when academic art history and criticism (which, to tell the truth, I was not taught at the Academy) are neither intended for nor accessible to a wider audience.

This is not a rejection of the profession. An art-blogger, like an art critic, must evaluate, analyze and interpret contemporary art. But s/he does it briefly and clearly, using modern living language, generally avoiding professional lexicon. That means we continue to be engaged in this business, but the rules have changed.

I try not to write about exhibitions and artists whom I consider to be weak and not worthy of attention. This is my position. After all, a reader is almost always against us, s/he perceives criticism as deception or PR, and as a result, severe criticism will attract more people to the exhibition.

The task of our craft is to show artistic life in all of its forms, to identify ways of understanding the art process, its talented members and their work in a new light.

And most important, the subject of a review should always be the artist and her/his works, and not the review itself. Analysis is important, not emotions.

Also, a professional art critic should maintain formal relationships with artists and gallery owners, for reputation is valued most in our profession.

And if you are online, never forget that a blog is an open form, and getting in touch with the audience in the form of informal conversation about contemporary art is very difficult. But it is possible if you “turn off” the critic in yourself and “turn on” the person who tells her/his friends what should not be missed in the world of contemporary art, why it’s interesting, why it’s necessary and what can it relate, or at least what thoughts it can provoke.

Art-blogging is about seeking out, not imposing. It means analyzing and providing an expert evaluation, being critical, but leaving a chance and offering alternatives. For an art critic is, first of all, an open-minded viewer.

And do not believe those art critics who have a lot of free time. To be a critic means being constantly engaged in the process, the boundaries of which are difficult to trace. You should be aware of what happened and is happening not only here and now but also around the world; what processes can be described as trends and whether they have a relationship to what is happening in your own town and country. You have to constantly compare and analyze and – most of all – write. A true critic, like a real artist, always has more ideas and work than paychecks.

Art blogging can be treated as an art if you have ambitions. But if you only have a sense of duty, then this is a craft, and it is even more difficult, for it is hard daily work to not only distinguish and interpret but also to evaluate and qualify. This is professional reviewing, and not bursts of poetic enthusiasm or ruthless criticism, which always resembles getting even.

And the most important thing: an art critic should be clear to the maximum number of people and present contemporary art as a special field of knowledge, which, at least, deserves respect.