must - not - stroke - chin
Post #549 • May 31, 2005, 8:29 AM • 45 Comments
The LA Times ran an article entitled Critical Condition that asked the following in the subhead: "Once almighty arbiters of American taste, critics find their power at ebb tide. Is it a dark time for the arts, or the dawn of a new age?" The artblogosphere has reacted with varying degrees of concern, ranging from snoring to mild interest to begrudged assaying. (Those three posts link to much of the rest of the conversation.)
I enjoyed reading the LA Times piece, especially the bit where Dave Hickey likens himself to Wolfman Jack, but it fails to mention the obvious: the newspapers are melting, and the fortunes of their journalists will likely melt with them no matter what they're writing about.
You can hardly find decent criticism in the art magazines anymore, and I can guess why: no business on earth makes money by criticising its source of income.
While the LAT piece asks whether this is a dark time for the arts, it doesn't do much towards answering the question. I would posit that a critic of Clement Greenberg's stature will not appear again unless a development in art as compelling as postwar abstraction appears first. Regardless of your feelings about the art of that time, its makers were working on some of the great aesthetic problems of the century. Hickey describes this as "forward tilt." Nothing like that is happening right now.
But let's take the long view - while art writing as a profession has existed a relatively short time, people have been writing about art since Plato, at least. They will continue, regardless of new developments in publishing. The smart ones who write clearly in an active voice ought to do so whether or not they can sell their work - like the manner in which artists make art. That passion will come through, and readers will want more of it. If the writer can't summon sufficient clarity and passion, the world doesn't need him. If the art can't inspire clarity and passion, the world doesn't need a record of it.