The excellent Kishore Singh offers this interesting assessment in India’s Business Standard on the transformation of the art critic into the art appreciator. One is tempted to add that he might not have gone far enough because there has been such a large business to be done in art advising that goes beyond the role of critic or appreciator. However, any appreciative noises made about this commentary should also be balanced with a reminder of the role Bernard Berenson played with the art dealer Lord Duveen. Plus ça change . . . .
Maybe it was the shrinking space in newspapers and magazines devoted to art coverage (as opposed to art market coverage) or the surge in the value of art — and it would be pertinent to point out that this has been most obvious in the case of Indian art — but at some point the art critic morphed into the art appreciator.
What’s an art appreciator? Well, actually not all that different from an art critic. An art appreciator is so well versed in art and trends and artists that he could well be a mirror image of the critic. The difference is hairline enough to have escaped the notice of many, but it is a crucial one: The art appreciator tells you what to look out for in a painting, what its highlights (and the artist’s highlights) are, what is part of the artist’s — or his peers’ — influence and trends, what the colours/medium et cetera reflect or suggest. The art appreciator celebrates each work, he does not underplay the strengths, nor over-suggest the weaknesses. In fact, the appreciator has nothing negative to say about an artist or an artist’s work.
Is that good, or bad? To understand that, you must understand how the appreciator came to replace the critic. Impoverished for years, the critics found that as the market grew, there was a good living to be made from writing on art — provided it was supported by the trade. A handful of brilliant art critics and writers were roped in by galleries to write the catalogues for forthcoming exhibitions. Catalogue writers make three to four times as much money than if they were to write for magazines and newspapers. There is also more space available to them here than in the mainstream media. There was literally no choice.
Art lovers and collectors look constantly for guidance, and have been influenced by what critics, and now appreciators, have to say. It is ironic therefore that when the art markets have crashed, it is principally for those artists that have been “celebrated” by appreciators.
Is the Critic Obsolete? (Business Standard)