The best art criticism shouldn’t even talk about art – Steve Cottingham opens the door, but can’t walk through
There are good bits in this piece, but the citation of K. Goldmsith is surely too much baggage for this piece to carry (given recent events). And certainly one should raise an eyebrow at a piece that complains of art criticism “as isolated and protected as an artwork in a white cube,” yet cites Tirdad Zolghadr, Boris Groys, Our Literal Speed et al. who are themselves purveyors of such precious and predictably jargoned writing/speaking as to be source material for the “cut-up” method of generating exhibition wall texts. The explanation for this resides of course in the continued fascination with an avant garde strategy – “I [Cottingham] want to ask: what if art criticism not only charted the avant-garde but embodied it, too?” But I want to ask what if art criticism abandoned the notion of an avant garde and especially its dated strategies? Cottingham is on a far more promising path here “But what can art criticism learn from New Journalism, immersive reporting, and Hunter S. Thompson’s drug-addled sports coverage?” I would not describe those as avant garde and would add to that list: the facebook flame war, the celebrity roast, the sports talk radio show, the street corner preacher, the coffee klatch, the fan fiction discussion boards, etc.
I would not so humbly offer my own “practice” (which of course isn’t one, or can’t be called one without scare quotes) as a partial solution to some of the quandaries posed. Take the conversation out of the hands of the art journals, the symposia, the universities, and into all the disreputable, trivial places like facebook, blogs, and bars. Maybe the best art criticism shouldn’t even talk about art. Be polite. Be mean. Be drunk. Be angry. Be respectful. Be a fucking jerk. Each is an appropriate tactic at certain times. But above all, don’t take yourself too seriously especially if you insist on continuing to talk about art. We must truly address the “problem with professionalization” (something I’ve posted about extensively on this blog) as Cottingham puts it [emphasis added]:
Art criticism is in crisis because we have a problem with professionalization. We are steeped in the vernacular of capitalism, and we are afraid to leave it. Our world is rife with administration, mimicking the bureaucratic processes of the corporations so many of us profess to hate. We are content to let our artistry cease as soon we begin writing proposals, drafting business letters, and carefully collating our résumés. We push limits and subvert expectations everywhere except on the back-end, that realm which increasingly dominates artistic practices.
Too often, we seek to industrialize our passions. We simultaneously demand creative and financial nourishment from what my grandmother’s friend once dismissively called “a hobby.” Art critics laud artwork that resists capitalist pressures, but rarely does the criticism equally embody the form of this resistance.
I have also talked incessantly about monetizing passions and what that, along with adopting a language and culture of work implies for such passions. So, I would offer the same advice to art critics, that Kaprow offered to artists: “Once the task of the artist was to make good art [criticism]; now it is to avoid making art [criticism] of any kind.” Or: “Artists [art critics] of the world, drop out! You have nothing to lose but your professions!” And finally: “…the idea of art cannot easily be gotten rid of (even if one wisely never utter the word). But it is possible to slyly shift the whole un-artistic operation away from where the arts customarily congregate, to become, for instance, an account executive, an ecologist, a stunt rider, a politician, a beach bum. In these different capacities…[art] would operate indirectly as a stored code that, instead of programming a specific course of behavior, would facilitate an attitude of deliberate playfulness toward all professionalizing activities well beyond art.” So rather than being art critics, become unart critics. Congregate in those uncustomary places, use your creative/critical/empathetic/poetic/agitational powers in every nook and cranny – sometimes, if you insist, in the mausoleum of art , but don’t be “afraid to leave it” either because I “can’t imagine a more thrilling place to be.”