Impotent Criticism and the Power of Money


New York Times critic Holland Carter is not happy. In an essay that blames money, real estate, chauvinism and other things for the decline of art’s vibrancy, Cotter also addresses the critic’s loss of influence and relevance:

The narrowing of the market has been successful in attracting a wave of neophyte buyers who have made art shopping chic. It has also produced an epidemic of copycat collecting. To judge by the amounts of money piled up on a tiny handful of reputations, few of these collectors have the guts, or the eye or the interest, to venture far from blue-chip boilerplate. They let galleries, art advisers and the media do the choosing, and the media doesn’t particularly include art critics. What, after all, does thumbs up, thumbs down matter when winners are preselected before the critical votes are in? In this economy, it can appear that the critic’s job is to broadcast names and contribute to fame.

Conservative art can encourage conservative criticism. We’re seeing a revival — some would say a disinterment — of a describe-the-strokes style of writing popular in the formalist 1950s and again in the 1970s: basically, glorified advertising copy. Evaluative approaches that developed in the 1980s and 1990s, based on the assumption that art inevitably comments on the social and political realities that produce it, tend to be met with disparagement now, in part because they’re often couched in academic jargon, which has become yet another form of sales-speak.

There’s no question that we need — art needs — an influx of new commentators who don’t mistake attitude for ideas, who move easily between cultures and geographies. Regular gigs in mainstream print journalism have all but dried up, but the Internet offers ambitious options in a growing number of blogazines including Art F City (edited by Paddy Johnson) and Hyperallergic (edited by Hrag Vartanian), which combine criticism, reporting, political activism and gossip on an almost-24-hour news cycle.

It’s a shame Cotter he doesn’t follow through on his own thought. How should an art economy function? What structures would he propose to promote a diversity of styles, ideas and artistic practices? Can the new critical outlets he praises have a broader effect on what kind of art is made and which artists will be able to support themselves?

Even the art market knows that the money is not the best indicator of art that will have an impact, either immediate or lasting

Holland Cotter Looks at Money in Art (NYTimes)