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Let’s get Critical


Given that art is subjective in nature it can be difficult to be critical of the artwork or exhibition on display.  My mother always says “If you cant say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”  But is that true when talking about art? Can we be critical and publicly acknowledge what we think is problematic with a project or even that we might just think something is down right ugly. Flipping through art magazines, or browsing on the internet negative reviews seem few and far between, making me believe that articles on art shows are just another form of publicity.   Unlike film reviews where putting two thumbs down is normal and part of a critical culture, exhibitions that are not of the interest of the writer are just generally not talked about.  Ignoring the “bad” comes at an expense and often takes away the criticality with which art should be viewed.  However I can imagine that positive reviews are easier to write, because it is just generally easier to write about something you like.  Also writing a negative review might put you in a uncomfortable situation in the future— the art community is small and writing a negative review might effect your future relationship with that gallery, museum or institution.  I can imagine if you write how “The recent exhibition at the AGO was created purely as a cash cow and has no real value” it might be a little nerve racking if you ever apply for a job there. 

But the lack of being critical is not just in the publishing world but all around. You can see it when you go to an opening, where whispers are exchanged between friends but huge congratulations thrown in the direction of the artist on display.   I am not saying you should tell an artist their work is terrible, but just be aware if you are an artist yourself that your friends are most likely going to shower you with compliments before the truth comes out.  The “truth” or perhaps an unapologetic opinion is needed for artists to develop and see their work through the eyes of their audience.  How can you truly get the most out of critique? Or how can you help your peers and not come across as rude.  I think a good critique is the result of asking the right questions in order to better understand the direction an artist should take next.  It is important to be receptive and ask for frank advice and opinion when you are receiving constructive critique.

So where can you find written criticism about art exhibitions happening in Toronto? There are some limitations with print because the exhibition being reviewed might already be finished by the time you get your copy of the magazine, especially if the publication runs quarterly.  Cmagazine has a thirty-year history as an art publication and will be releasing their redesigned magazine and 30th anniversary party December 12th at SexLaser with a performance by Regina the Gentlelady. Blouin Art Info is your online source for art related information, there are often great articles that provide an accessible entry point into the exhibition that is being discussed, and since they are online, if the article is recent there is a chance you will be able to see the work in person.  Kapsula is another entirely online publication, currently in its first year, taking a more critical stance and embracing its Internet-based format, and publishing unconventional writing or subject matter.  It furthers art criticism by looking for an audience outside of the normal sphere and it promotes “strong writing that is critical but not cruel.”  The need for art criticism in all forms is an important part of an art community as it keeps it artists and institutions focused on providing exceptional work.  It can also be the starting point for engaging discussions and reaching a public that might not be able to experience the art live.  We need to be critical as viewers, artists, and art lovers and search out opinions that perhaps differ from our own, that are critical, informed and honest. 


 By Humboldt Magnussen