The State of Blog Criticism – In Encouragement of Chair-Throwing

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I entered into the art blog realm essentially uninformed about what was at stake; approaching the project as a form of personal expression and as an archival tool for tracking my job search and meetings with individuals in the Toronto arts community. Although the focus of the blog’s content has mostly been a review and reflection of the structure of the Toronto gallery and contemporary art system, I have inevitably found some events and exhibitions interesting within this context and perhaps have occasionally ventured into the realm of ‘art criticism’.

So what does ‘art criticism’ mean within the ever-expanding and delirious arena of online self-publishing? Most likely not much beyond itself as blogs seem to stand as reflections of individuals’ personal opinions in an age when anyone who has access to a computer can have a public voice about anything and everything. Within the Toronto art community, being small and narrow as it is, I was never under the impression that I had free reign over what I would be ‘publishing’ as I understand that maybe whoever I wrote about would also read the text concerning them, under the assumption that an artist I mention may soon read my post, dealers, curators, other writers etc. In no way knowing how often this happens, or whether it happens at all, I have still always kept in mind that whoever I write about is also someone I could bump into in a bar or along the street and would be interested in talking about what was written. For me, the blog is an invitation for discussion.

With physical printed text – reviews and criticism – the opinions are perhaps more concrete, more serious and permanent, and critics maybe more concerned about the tone and the expression of opinions with a desire to remain within an understanding of respectability and inoffence. Blogs are different. They can accidentally offend because of a more relaxed level of concern on the part of the writer, or they can be inaccurately researched, without copy editing or peer reviews…..and have the possibility of being posted after the writer’s had a few drinks. These qualities are what make the blog-world absolutely unique and excitingly problematic; two great qualities that shouldn’t be exploited. One must always remember that the online world is a form of the public sphere of course.

Due to the responsive and slap-dash format of writing and posting that blogs offer, they can fall easy prey to improperly or incompletely developed thoughts, feelings and opinions. One must understand these possibilities and use them to one’s advantage, or else the content can easily just be passed off as bad-criticism. The content does not match the same expectations for print materials. Looking at a (kind of) recent Toronto Akimblog entry by Terrance Dick’ (14 October 2009), there was a response to Dick’s statement about the role of the critic. In Dick’s opinion, he considers art critics to be responsible for pointing only towards good art, as he expressed a sense of personal guilt upon publishing (online or in print) any ‘less than favourable’ comments. He also said that he found himself afraid of running into artists he had spoken ill of (to any degree) along the streets of Toronto. This one reader’s response to the presence of bad criticism (or lack of presence) was taken through an opinion expressed through Gary Michael Dault, that there is simply “not enough room for negative reviews.”

If you attend five exhibitions in the next week (which you should do if you haven’t already), relect upon them all together, and you can weed out all the bad stuff pretty quickly. Maybe one show was mildly interesting, but nothing to write home (or online) about. So, what’s the responsibility of art critics to discuss all exhibitions, both bad and good? Again, our opinionated Akimblog responder said “As an example you [Dick] write about 3 or 4 shows, and are forced to not write about the 200 hundred others happening in the city. I understand[:] promote the good forget the garbage.” So, as a writer and publisher, there’s no constructive use to pointing out the faults and failures of the art community perhaps. Really, who would it benefit? Maybe it would put some fire under the butts of artists to make better work? Maybe ‘any publicity is good publicity? What about artists who make work that is intentionally bad? It will all end up in a swirl or opinions – the opinion of everyone who has access to a computer and beyond.

Looking to another recent example on the Voice on Canadian Art blog by Andrea Carsen where, in the 6 November 2009 post, she posed the question whether her blog should be more critical. This ran in tandem with her review of the current Redbull 381 Project’s exhibition Sitting Pretty: The Enduring Role of Portraiture in Contemporary Art . She panned it, or at least expressed dislike for the works in the show. She got a pointed response by curators Nicolas Brown and Julia Lum, who indicated some further details about the works that they thought Carsen had incorrectly or hastily overlooked and misinterpreted. So this is either some good old art drama or it’s an indication of the problems of art-blog-criticism being called out for all the problems it so easily plays with : inattention to detail, hurried and subjectively responsive content (researched or not) and some sort of understanding that the blog lies somewhere between public and private (typed from the comfort of bed and a cup of tea – where I usually write, then posted for the whole internet world to see and judge and potentially respond).

I’m fully encouraging of screaming arguments over art, taking from the spirit of the Futurists and Abstract Expressionists – getting drunk and getting into fights about what’s at stake in the art world– there’s simply not enough of that nowadays. Although two recent events of note made attempts to reinvigorate this spirit: The Toronto Alliance of Art Critics event entitled BRING-IT, MAKE FACE MOTHAFUCKAS! (Double Double Land, Dec. 2) which was supposedly a raging debate about art criticism in Toronto which featured David Balzer, Otino Corsano, Rosemary Heather, Charlene K. Lau, Leah Sandals and Murray Whyte, and Lawrence Weschler: What’s the New Line? (Cinecycle, Dec. 3) event which included rousing audience and participant attempts at re-positioning and re-evaluating current Toronto artists’ practices.

So, in the spirit: If you don’t like what I’ve said, this is a public blog and I want people to talk about the issues it discusses and play within this tricky public-private divide...although I certainly don’t encourage people to hurl any chairs in my direction next time I see them.

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