Thursday, September 18, 2014

an incredibly tiny essay on art reviewing

I am feeling melancholy about all the art exhibitions not written about in any size shape or form—not an analysis set in stone for the ages, just a writeup in terms of “Here’s some stuff that a certain demographic will like, and another demographic will absolutely hate.”

[One of the many problems with this is that not even I wanted to read the five hundred additional words I wrote about the topic. Here they are, however:]

...But in the first place, that’s a hard thing to perceive. In the second place there aren’t enough writers to perceive it. In the third place, all but the most mundane of artists like to think they are making work that does more than appeal to sixty-year-old investment bankers in one case, forty-year-old adjunct professors in another, and twenty-three-year-old baristas hoping for more meaningful jobs in yet another. Yet most art falls into this category, and I wish it were possible to write reviews that say, “None of this work will go into art history, but two or three pieces are downright memorable, and half the work is something that folks of a certain age will wish they could own.” But nearly all of us delude ourselves as to the importance of what we are doing—we either value it too highly, or dismiss it as worthless when it isn’t. Reviewers similarly over- or undervalue for reasons that are merely personal/psychological, no matter how sophisticated they think their methodologies are.

So why not more reviews that say, “Here are some photos of what I think are the most interesting works in the show; the artist says this about them (but I disagree/agree with modifications/really don’t care one way or the other), and if you like this sort of thing, then this is the sort of thing you will like.” Because there are not more people willing to spend their days seeing artwork they mostly do not like in order to write that sort of review for almost no money, for one thing. For another, it takes considerable skill in sussing out changing socioeconomic dynamics to be able to match artists and audiences. For a third thing, neither artist nor audience wants to have this relationship spelled out so baldly.

Yet some of the people who could do this sort of matchup delicately are engaged instead in trying to write “Ten fun things you probably didn’t know about Ingmar Bergman, including who he was and what he did,” and “Which endangered mammal species are you?” for almost as little money as they would get for writing a match-up type of art review. Some of them, however, may prefer this type of peonage to having to deal with the entire broad spectrum of artists and gallery operators and the people who love and hate them.

This six-hundred-or-so-word chunk of prose is the maximum length for a readable review, in any case; not enough to do justice to most exhibitions but most exhibitions don’t require justice, just audiences. Justice can be done at the artist's retrospective, if the artist is lucky enough to get one.

1 comment:

Peggy Dobbins said...

When we moved to Atlanta 18 years ago I visited galleries to see art I thought might interest me because of having read a short review of it by Jerry Cullum in the AJC. I was slightly conscious that my declining interest in the Atlanta art scene correlated with the disappearing of his reviews as the local print newspaper shriveled.