Critiquing criticism

Melissa seeks the skinny on criticism via a panel discussion at The Wheeler Centre.

So, last night at the Wheeler Centre much was discussed in relation to arts criticism in Australia, with the a skew towards that which appears in print media (expected), and more specifically, newspapers. Owing to the backgrounds of each of the speakers there weren’t many surprises, and not knowing much about anyone’s background before I went in didn’t hinder me – it didn’t take long to slot each speaker into their role for the session.

John McDonald aired the view that artists don’t want criticism so much as just some form of free press, while all through this monologue Naomi Cass shook her head (and I was nodding in agreement with her.) Naomi stated that, especially for younger artists, there is no longer a ‘shared canon’ or common touchstones amongst all artists, so criticism is made more challenging. In her opinion, if you want to know what’s going on in the art world, or what is going on at the forefront of a movement you need to ask the expert, who is the artist. And owing to this expertise, each artist deserves a richer and more nuanced approach from critics that what they are currently getting.

Patrick McCaughey stated that ‘a critical thing is that art is acknowledged’, and artists want to be reviewed. (Note reviewed rather than critiqued.) There was agreement that while there are more artists today, and more artist worthy of review, there are also less reviewers.

The internet, and blogs specifically were bagged by the two boys (who are older and obviously newspaper-centric in their thinking of criticism as a profession, though Patrick tempered his critique a little) while it was left to Phip Murray to try and defend bloggers and forums for what they can do. She made the point that what is online is different to what the print media is capable of, but yet it is a useful and interesting array in itself. Navigating it is more tricky, which was something also brought up by John, but in his case it was used more as a reason for attack.

In the end nothing was solved, and no one would have left more enlightened about navigating the internet for critique, though John did say towards the end that he’s going to “join ’em” possibly, by offering extended criticism, or at least more content online that people can log on for if the article in print interests them enough to read more.

As a person who has given up reading the newspaper (though I still peek into The Age, mostly online, which I’m constantly reminded is only a shadow of its full printed self) I would have been keen to find out more/better/different avenues for reading and maybe even writing criticism. Online. And I think the audience, who were at once told that print media is dying, criticism is being stripped from newspapers, newspapers are obliged to see the shows with the more reach (read the blockbusters/shows that have spent a lot of advertising dollars), there is more worthy art being made (which is not being covered) and that all blogged/online criticism is pretty much useless, would rightfully have left even more concerned about the state of criticism in Australia.

A lot more went on than all this, so I would encourage you to seek out the broadcast of this session that is set to happen on Radio National sometime in the near future.

And for the jewellist? It looks like being ignored by critics in traditional media is likely to continue.

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