Personal Essay

The Role of Criticism: A Letter from the Editor

An article by Raphael Rubinstein in the March issue of Art in America entitled “A Quiet Crisis” caught my eye recently.

In the article, Rubinstein lamented the growing trend for criticism to do everything but critique.  “As a critic,” he wrote “lately I’ve begun to feel that something more than explaining and advocacy is called for, that qualitative choices must be made — and articulated.”

He noted a recent report that stated that 75% of art critics surveyed responded that “rendering a personal judgment is considered by art critics to be the least important factor in reviewing art,” while 91% felt their main role was to “educate the public about visual art and why it matters.”

The article made me consider our own position on why we publish 15 BYTES.

We certainly serve an educational purpose, to inform artists and the public about the visual artists in their state. In addition, however, we have always wanted to create a lively discussion about the visual arts and visual artists and have always encouraged serious critiques of art exhibitions. <

In a recent edition of this ezine, we ran a review of a number of shows in Salt Lake City. In the process of critiquing the shows, the reviewer had both positive and negative comments about the artwork and/or the presentation of the exhibitions.

Though at times the tone of the article may have been somewhat glib, we felt that the presentation of the reveiwer’s ideas were at least coherent and well forumlated.

We did, however, receive negative feedback about the review, both oral and written.  One writer was nice enough to take exception to some negative comments in the critique about my own work and wondered why we had chosen to print the review when the purpose of Artists of Utah is for artists to work together as a community.

As editors we have considered the role of criticism in our pages. We feel that it is important to have an open forum to discuss, even if it is to point out faults. We demand our reviewers write well and write fairly but we do not demand that they write positively.

As to the role of criticism, we agree with Christopher Knight of the LA Times that “Criticism is a considered argument about art, not a priestly initiation of the unenlightened into a catechism of established knowledge.”

Our reviewers are freelance, unpaid writers and their opinions are precisely that, opinions.

We are simply glad that they have opinions and we are heartened to find individuals who care enough about the visual arts in our community to take the time to write about them for our pages.

A critic is a necessary check and balance to the power structure of any art world, no matter how small.  As Rubenstein pointed out in his article, critics have a freedom “commensurate with their lack of power.” Curators and gallery owners have the power to decide what to show, and if they are professional about it they feel a sense of responsibility commensurate with that power to be public servants. If, however, there is no one to call into question the judgment of a curator or a gallery director , or the artists they show, then there is no control for the power that can be wielded.

We hope that our pages can be used to educate, but we also hope that our pages can be a forum where an informed opinion about art, adequately expressed, can be a catalyst for thought and discussion.

As always we invite comments about any of our articles and will publish well-written letters to the editor in this space.

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