Tag Archives: criticism

Cultural Diet Advice

It would appear to be a reasonable proposition that an art critic aught to be able to tell good art from bad and therefore would be able to advice on an appropriate cultural diet. What to see and what to avoid. Such advice is often obvious when someone is deprived of culture or has a very poor cultural diet, in the same way that it is obvious that a starving person needs food. As in recent reports of Canadian doctors prescribing a visit to an art gallery.


Less obvious, perhaps better aesthetic taste provides a benefit, such as the benefits of a better cultural diet. As yet there is no evidence for this and as so many people have been so very wrong in describing some art as ‘junk food,’ ‘rotten’ or ‘poisonous’ I am loathe to follow their example. If there was equally clear evidence for poor aesthetic taste having detrimental effects it would as likely be around by now, given millennia of bad taste. The idea that someone knows the right kind of culture to consume is to avoided like a fad diet.

Much of our critical vocabulary is based on food: sweet, sour, light, vapid, rotten… all summed up in one word, ‘taste’. With this jumbo serving of misplaced synesthesia is hard not to imagine that we are in some ways ingesting culture. However food and diet are a poor analogy for cultural consumption and demonstrate why such a common analogies works so badly. We hardly know what the nutritional value of aspects of culture. To call something ‘cultural junk food’ maybe as misinformed as medieval dietary advice on balancing the four humors.

If culture is at all like food, or exercise, then the best advice is to consume a variety in moderation. Advice that I try to follow in this blog with posts on a variety of types of art and associated cultural matters but that I follow more in my everyday life as I don’t generally write about the music, dance and other aspects of my cultural diet in this blog (maybe I should).

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.

Reviews & Criticism & Computer Games

Often I can be found around at my friend TC’s house, playing computer games with him on his X-box or Wii. Computer games are a big part of TC’s life, they are a major part of contemporary life but how to begin to discuss these games critically rather than just review them? It was Paul Callaghan, who writes a blog about games and culture, got me thinking about this subject. And this post has ended up being more about the difference between reviews and criticism than computer games.

I have read a couple of excellent articles about computer games in The Guardian. These articles demonstrate the difference between reviews and critical writing. Reviews are for the consumer; the articles are for everyone else.

The articles in The Guardian were not about the latest game or the best game, they were about games that are familiar to many people: World of Warcraft and Farmville. (See Sam Leith’s “World of Warcraft video game is every bit as glorious as Chartres Cathedral” and Naomi Alderman’s “Farmville gets its global game on”.) Even if you haven’t played these games, even if you might never consider these games you are aware of their existence and the articles were written for you, as well as, people who play the game. In writing critiques of computer games the game is not the subject being examined.

The writers in The Guardian are not reviewing computer games on release dates; the choice of games is not related to a promotional schedule for the games public release. Criticism needs time for reasoned judgment about a game rather than faddish enthusiasm. The choice of the game or games under examination is due to their significance for reasons other than newly released. You can review a token example of a game, the one that you play, but computer games exist in multiple and played at very different levels of competence. In critically examining games the critic is looking at the players as much as the game. This is a crucial distinction between a review and critique: a review is focused on the subject whereas a critique looks around rather than directly at the subject.

Back to TC’s house where playing computer games have moved from the computer in the study to the TV living room. I’m thinking about the way the players rotate on the couch, the kind of kibitzing that goes on when someone is playing the game. I have not written a lot about computer games as part of the “culture notes” in my blog. I guess that I haven’t really written about them here either as I have been using games the subject for this discussion of the difference between reviews and criticism. I have written one see my blog post about the Wii game De Blob because of its relevance to Melbourne’s street art.

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