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How Art Critics Challenge and Provoke Artists and Audiences

How Art Critics Challenge and Provoke Artists and Audiences

Changing philosophies in, functions for, and materials used in artmaking has lead to a change in the way art is perceived by the public. A shift from the structural and cultural frames to the subjective and recently postmodern frames means that the interpretations of an artwork can be much more wide-ranging than previous to the 20th century. This statement is especially true in relation to contemporary Australian criticism—as a comparatively young nation it has taken some time for a uniquely Australian style of critical writing to develop.

Both the popular press and specific art journals are mediums through which critics can express their opinions and interpretations of an artwork, collection, gallery, or particular artist. While some take the opinion that because critical writing implies authority, “the critic knows best” and that they are always right. However many will disagree with the critics depending on how they feel about an issue.

John McDonald is a well-known and often controversial art critic, with strong opinions on a wide range of aspects of the visual art world. In an essay entitled Up It’s Own Art (Spectrum liftout, Sydney Morning Herald, April 6-7 2002), he launches an intense attack on the current state of contemporary art—“Dumbed down and robbed of the old taboos, contemporary art has lost its ability to move or stimulate us”. The article is very provocative, making claims like “Art criticism has reached it’s lowest ebb in 20 years” and “the kind of work that best represents the “New British Art” is…[a] fatuous affair”.

It seems that McDonald has written this piece to provoke the artists, the audience (gallery-going public) and other critics alike. Along with other strong opinions expressed in the piece, this article would have supporters of modern conceptual art up in arms. His attacks on contemporary artists, who he claims are pursuing the career for “a taste of pop fame”, are sure to provoke practising artists.

Provoking criticisms also appear in another of McDonald’s articles, Off The Wall written for the Sydney Morning Herald. As well as containing a scathing review of Adam Geczy and Ben Genocchio’s book What is Installation?, McDonald writes in the article that installation art is a type of “light entertainment, leaving audiences titillated rather than challenged”. Comments such as this and “the best installation art...

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Category:   Art History

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