An Independent Critic

“I’m terrible with words,” Baby Guerrilla said in her acceptance speech on winning Two Years on the Wall at Union Dining in Richmond.

Yes, I know – artist are good with images and often terrible with words (there are exceptions, of course). And this is one reason why I often don’t consider it worth while talking to artist. There are other reasons why I don’t consider artist’s views that important. I don’t necessarily want to get that close – it creates too many conflicts of interest. Just because I appreciate your art I doesn’t mean that want to be a friend or your publicist (if I was your publicist you would pay me). And I can’t be bothered fitting in with artists’ travel, party or nightclubbing schedules – I have my own deadlines and I can’t wait weeks for a reply to my email.

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).

Sunday Times Restaurant Critic A.A. Gill said: “The other thing that people you criticise never know and understand is that, like the mafia, it’s not personal. It isn’t about you, or me, it is about the third set of people in the equation: your audience and my readers. One of the great traps for critics is to believe they are part of the business they’re criticising. In the same way that a traffic warden isn’t part of the automotive business, I’m not part of the restaurant business.” (Smith Journal v.5 p.15)

I am not part of the art business and it is not my job to promote your exhibition, gallery or art.

It is inevitable that I will get to know some artists and gallery owners in my time writing this blog. I was at the Blender Xmas Party drinking the organic beer and hanging out with artists – Joel, Factor, Adi and Heesco. It might be fun but I have to ask myself is this a good use of my time as a critic and won’t it influence my next blog post on their art?

In the ecology of the art world critics are like wolves and other wild dogs, we are not the top predators but nevertheless we are necessary for the environment. We will abandon our kill to the big cats of the art world, the rich collectors and public art galleries (if they buy it we can but skulk around their kill waiting for them to leave so that we can pick over the bones). The effect of critics is grossly over estimated the wild herds of artists, we kill only those that would otherwise have died of disease or starvation within the same season. Sure we could reap havoc on an unguarded herd of dumb domesticated artists but maybe I’m stretching this metaphor a bit far wondering who is the farmer with the gun in this scenario.

Finally there is the right of reply to my posts in the comments section; it doesn’t get enough use.

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

10 responses to “An Independent Critic

  • Matt

    Wow, that was arrogant, and I must say with many grammatical errors.

    • Mark Holsworth

      To quote AA Gill again: “Dyslexia is not my problem, the dyslexia is the sub-editors problem.” Are you volunteering to sub-edit?

  • karenpenrithartKaren Penrith

    No, as an art critic it is definitely not your job to make friends with artists at all, but rather to be an objective unknown quantity within the sphere, perhaps it may inspire others other’s?? perhaps deter?? That is a choice left to the reader and any audience who show up.

    • Mark Holsworth

      Perhaps an independent “unknown quantity” that may inspire or deter by trying to extend the conversation about the art. But as you say, Karen it is up to “the reader and any audience” to choose what they want from want from the discourse.

  • CDH

    This is a very fair point and a good article to write. I don’t agree with the first comment, that it’s arrogant. As an artist, I appreciate hearing the perspective of the critic. I think useful criticism is important- much more important than praise. It’s what makes you improve your practice. I think we need more well thought out criticism of street art beyond the vanity profiles and photo catalogues.

    I think that art critics in street art have a particularly difficult time. It’s a low brow culture and often an egocentric culture which makes many artists totally intolerant of criticism, that’s often intended constructively.

  • Sandra Powell

    Nice words Black Mark!


  • sikel

    art criticizes culture, and all manner of things, sometimes, just as words are art in their own right with the right intent, sometimes – where the blurring of the lines lies the communion of the two. An “artists” criticism tell colourful tales and a “critic” paints clever words. Silence and observation as well as the richness of an empty ego allows the right word or the right colour, in the right time and place, to each our intent.

    to the sparse truths and heed neither the demons nor the angels.

  • Sara Paxton

    Being a critic would not be an easy job and I reckon you’d have to be pretty resilient. No unlike being an artist. I welcome criticism and feedback about my work – that’s how I become better.
    I like your article – some very worthwhile point.

    • Mark Holsworth

      Thanks Sara, I started writing this blog because I was disappointed with the lack of criticism and feedback that I was receiving as an artist and I thought that others might feel the same.

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