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criticism prize

Post #232 • March 10, 2004, 8:37 AM

Modern Painters magazine and the UK Guardian have teamed up to offer a prize in art criticism. Says juror Charles Saumarez Smith, director of the London National Gallery:

...there is a great deal of lively reviewing of art exhibitions by critics who write week after week for the national newspapers. The convention of newspaper reviewing in this country is well established and correspondingly restricted in terms of length and scope.

It is a medium that is not intended to encourage discursive reflection. There are reviewers I admire - thoughtful, intelligent and well-qualified practitioners of the genre who have the essential characteristic of not being entirely predictable in what they write. But the requirement of their work is to provide a highly contingent record of a particular exhibition, no more.

Is there is a paucity of good writing, then, in this middle ground? Am I the only person who recollects long and thoughtful articles by writers such as Kenneth Clark and Michael Ayrton, which were published in the Listener and which I was able to read in the school library?

They encouraged me to look at and think about art, not just as a medium of contemporary fashion, but as one that required careful critical judgment - the use of intelligent language to describe the thoughts and feelings inspired by a particular work.

Periodically I bellyache about whether criticism is a valid profession. This is a simpler justification than the self-important mess that I came up with: critics encourage people to look at and think about art. Good.

But how can we be confident that writers of this calibre will appear in the future? The answer is that we should make more strenuous efforts to recognise and support them.

This is where the Modern Painters and Guardian Prize for Writing on Art comes in. Writers who have not previously had their work published are encouraged to submit two examples of the genre, one long (2,000 words) and one short (600 words). There is no money in winning, but only the opportunity to have your work published in the Guardian and Modern Painters.

In reading the entries, I am looking forward to discovering writing that is stimulating, irritating and, most of all, fresh: writing that makes one stop and think; writing that - and this is the harder part - makes one stop and look.

Deadline is June 30. Thank you ArtsJournal.

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