There is an ugly glut of gushing praise in the art world. Wonderful, amazing, fabulous, great, fantastic, must see … gushing praise is just so much balderdash, soap bubbles of words that don’t tell you anything. Turn the flow of praise down and find something else to say about art.

In the past the partisan politics of the modern art world attracted many defenders convinced that appreciate progressive art was the same as supporting progressive politics. A small, marginal cultural practice might need a gushing review from an insider to promote it but Melbourne’s contemporary visual arts scene is neither small nor marginal. It can stand on its own merits and doesn’t need a constant flow of gushing praise to sustain it.

The arts media is seen as a free promotional forum whose role is to attract a larger audience for an event. These gushing comments are poncy (“poncy” as in pandering, procurering and pimping) praising all the artists and every exhibition or event. There is even a Melbourne blog called Art Pimp by Din Heagney, artistic director of Platform Artists Group (2006-2010). But all this pimping isn’t going to improve the quality of the art.

There is a lot of gushing in the Australian art media because too many the writers and presenters can’t say anything else due to massive conflicts of interests. Andy Dinan who presents “Gallery Girl” on Channel 31 is the director of Mars Gallery. This conflict of interest that is left unmentioned on the show, even when Andy Dinan reports on her own gallery. “Gallery Girl” is not community television but a half hour advertisement for some of Melbourne’s commercial galleries. There are so few independent critics who can comment without conflicts of interests that it goes unmentioned in the arts media. Even the ABC’s “Art Nation”, the national broadcaster’s visual arts show is full of gushing; one of their commentators, Reko Rennie’s artistic career influences what he has to say about art.

When was the last time that you read a negative review of a contemporary art exhibition? When was the last time that you read that a notable artist was under performing or that an exhibition wasn’t worth a look? These kinds of comments are common in film and book reviews, even from sports commentators but they are rare in the visual arts. One of the reasons for this blog is to improve the quality of critical discussion in Melbourne’s visual arts not to gush.

About Mark Holsworth

Writer, independent researcher and artist, Mark Holsworth is the author of the book Sculptures of Melbourne. View all posts by Mark Holsworth

5 responses to “Gushing

  • Dr Marcus Bunyan

    Hi Mark
    I think the comments have to be balanced. As long as the critique is intelligent and insightful of the work not derogatory then criticism is valuable to produce better work. It can be very negative (see Robert Nelson’s review of the Albert Tucker exhibition out at Heide) but when it steps over the boundary into non-objectivity then that is not fair. I frequently say an exhibition is not so good but if there is something positive to say I try to say it.

  • Mark Holsworth

    Hi Marcus, Yes, Robert Nelson’s review of the Albert Tucker exhibition is a great example of an excellent but very negative review. It was really insightful. And it was important for Nelson to concentrate on his examination of Tucker’s visual misogyny (don’t know what he was like personally but it is so clear in his paintings) rather than try to be balanced because so much has already been said in praise of Tucker. I often find that an accurate description of the art will expose the best critique.

  • Andy Dinan

    Dear Mark,

    Great to know you have been following the six episodes of Gallery Girl on c31.
    Let me just clarify a few points for you and your blog.

    My name is Andy Dinan – I intro myself on every episode and every show ends with my name quite clearly identified ,there has never or would ever be any reason for me to hide that I am also the director of MARS Gallery,I am extremely proud of establishing MARS some seven years ago ,privately and independently funded down the wrong end of Port Melbourne and now have staged over 140 shows and had over 500 interns through the building.
    GG was created to visit gallery’s or meet artists that never get media coverage and meet Gallery Directors , curators and gallery people who would never get profiled
    Last week on a rerun we rated 40,000 viewers .For a gallery , be it commercial or public, that would normally never see that many people or reach that many homes in one year that is an extraordinary opportunity .

    I gush- I get excited sometimes I even ring or twitter n tell people to go to art exhibitions that is who I am and that is what art makes me do – that is who I am.Im passionate and passionate about art and that dear Mark is exactly what drove me to start a gallery, start a tv series n look at contemporary art every day — the GG 6 episodes show aimed to tell it as I find it – on the spot!

    Maybe instead of knocking GG on c31 – a group of individuals who got up n did something that supports gallery’s and artists you need to take a look at the industry and then consider spelling, getting names right and investigating fully before reporting on your blog.
    Good luck with that.
    Proudly and often Gushingly but always with passion and GG flair,
    Andy Dinan
    Ps Drop in for a coffee at MARS , 418 Bay St Port Melbourne or watch my teaser for GG on Utube it might give you another blog piece that will help with your ratings too!

    • Mark Holsworth

      Hi Andy, I think that a disclaimer about your association with MARS Gallery would be appropriate and ethical during the credits of Gallery Girl. And less gushing would make Gallery Girl less of a bore; you might even get more viewers. I think that art in Melbourne is strong enough to survive without the support of community TV show constantly gushing about it. For more information about gushing in art criticism you might want to read: Giles Auty “The Gushers and the Disenchanted” (Quadrant, Volume XLVII Number 4 – April 2003) archive_details_list.php?article_id=378 If there are any errors in fact in any of my blog entries I will make corrections but I find your comments accusing me lack of research simply ugly and unfounded (but at least I’m giving you some experience on how to stop gushing).

  • An Independent Critic « Black Mark

    […] I am an independent critic – for the artists who are terrible with words look up these two words in a dictionary. Many artists and designers have never had anything critical written about their work. For many the media exists solely as a source of promotional puff pieces and they are annoyed when this blog doesn’t fulfill that gushing role. Art critics are not just there to offer their opinions but to extend the conversation about the art. Without critics the limited conversation would go something like this: “Cool art”, “No, it is shit”, “Well I think that its cool”, “And I think that it is shit”, “We have different opinions”, “Yes, we have different opinions, we can agree on that.” The critic’s role is to extend that conversation for as long as possible by bringing in as much additional material to bear on these opinions as possible. To point out the positives and the negatives – it is not the roll of a critic to gush (see my post on Gushing). […]

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