The Difference Between the Blogger and the Art Critic

The latest in his series on modern criticism sees Darren Murphy cast his eye over the ongoing debate around the blogger and the critic…

Last week in The Art Writer’s Responsibility to Readability, I concluded that the art critic’s responsibility lies not to a definitive readership but specifically to the readability of what is written. Moving on, it would be logical to grapple with the question, who or what, is the art critic?

The blogger versus the critic, and the role of opinion in the latter, is a debate that has raged for decades amongst the giants (and the rest of us) of the art world, and this question was central to The Double Negative’s event, The Medium is the Medium (above) at Liverpool Biennial 2012. Aiming to investigate the changing face of journalism, and by extension critical writing, the event featured guests selected to encourage a discussion over the standards contemporary journalists and critics should attempt to adhere to, regardless of their platform.

“The place that the two worlds [of blogging and critical writing] collide is interesting,” opened Cherie Federico (of Aesthetica). She went on to elaborate that bloggers may often see themselves as actively criticising works of visual art when they are in fact overwhelming what sparks debate and discussion with their own personal opinions. Federico defines a critic as someone who leaves their opinion outside of writing and a blogger as someone who may carry it into their texts, much like Richard Horsman had done in The Culture Vulture on a similar post a number of months ago.

“The audience is perfectly capable of gathering information. Critical Writing is not about educating people”

Another member of this discussion highlights that, as the critic is separated from the blogger by generating a critical debate, we must not keep them elevated as the arbiters of knowledge or taste as they so often are. Edgar Schmitz, professor of Critical Studies at Goldsmiths (who recently spoke about his own practice at Islington Mill in Manchester) argues, “the audience is perfectly capable of gathering information. Critical Writing is not about educating people.”

This strikes me as an agreement with the words of one of those giants I speak of above. The writer and critic Harold Rosenberg believed a critic should not tell people what to think or what to feel, they should consider technique and skill, and encourage discussion. Schmitz’ statement, alongside that of Federico’s and Horsman’s, allows room for that notorious beast ‘art news’ to remain part of art criticism. Although it is not quite as objective as critical writing, it does go without this personal opinion and encourages discussion about the art world, if not directly artists and their works.

To further strengthen a difference between the blogger and the critic, we can look at scholar Thomas McEvilly, who utters something similar to the above in his essay Critical Mess: Art Critics and the State of Their Practice. “The lingering dominance of the issue of quality and of the value judgment seems to outsiders to render our discourse elitist and irrelevant … stress analysis, not appreciation.”

It’s fair to conclude that the difference between the blogger and the critic is rapidly diminishing as writers publish themselves through blogs, and blogs become aggregated by more broadly recognisable, traditional platforms. The difference that remains though seems to be the use of opinion to create debate. However, neither of these characters are the sole instigator of discussion and debate in the art world – no one can claim such a prolific title in any field.

So, it may be worthwhile considering the influence the home of the visual arts may have, in an ever smaller art world: what control, influence or use does the gallery have for the art critic?

Darren Murphy

Darren is the founder of Not Too Critical, an inclusive and informal discussion group hoping to incite debate and discussion on matters and subjects pertaining to the contemporary arts

Darren’s words on modern criticism will be serialised on The Double Negative over the next few weeks

Posted on 20/05/2013 by thedoublenegative