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November 6, 2017
 

Opinion: Thoughts on Critical Visual Art Reviews

“The Art Critic” (1955) by Norman Rockwell

In what Arts-Louisville hopes will be an ongoing dialogue about the role of critical observation in the Louisville arts community, we invited Mr. Gorman to start the ball rolling.

By Albertus Gorman

Entire contents copyright © 2017 Albertus Gorman. All rights reserved.

Following up on an earlier conversation about critical reviews in Louisville’s visual arts scene. Well, they started disappearing from our local newspapers long before economics or editorial policies hamstrung the few people who wanted to write about art. Looking back, it’s been perhaps twenty years, (the late 90’s) since we had regularly published, true newspaper reviews that tried to assess the artist’s intentions through what was being offered to the public in our gallery spaces. This situation has not remained true across the board for our city’s other art forms where some reviewers (experts versed in an art form) who can honestly assess what they have experienced and put it into words still hold on. Despite some growth in the visual arts community, Louisville remains a performing arts town.

I remember the old Louisville Eccentric Observer once published a visual art column by the critic Bruce Nixon. He could be abrupt and sometimes polarizing, but his reviews also had this interesting effect. It upped most artists’ games and strengthened the work being created in our community. If you showed anything less than your best…he would call you on it! As a result, his columns were eagerly anticipated and created more interest in the overall visual art scene. That little bit of fear thinking about a potential bad review seemed to work wonders!

This is not to blame the few writers in our area that have had or continue to hold on to positions commenting on Louisville’s visual arts scene. This audience for this has probably always been small and confined to most other artists. It is a position of trust and good reviewers are in even shorter supply than good artists. Over the years have tried to write about local art, the “doing” is often its own reward. Many other issues are at work here and if I can I would like to mention a few. This may be a beneficial place for others to chime in here with their own observations.

Painting with a broad brush, I’m not sure we truly value constructive, critical dialogue in the visual arts anymore. Its overall rarity would seem to suggest so. True criticism intended to be beneficial or instructive, seems not to be particularly valued across the spectrum of our society. Most artists are trained to think with a critical eye, but the public often sees criticism as an exercise in negativity. As it stands, everything being presented is equally good. Artists looking to generate sales and other opportunities would rather risk having a non-review based upon their press releases than one that might provide insight into the work to both the artist and interested public.

This is more obscure, but keeps popping up in my mind; the very language of art is in transition and has me wondering. The agreed-upon formal language of art that has evolved over time to help describe the visual experience is on the wane. I see this happening more and more. As an example, it is getting rarer to hear a sculptor talk about their 3-dimensional art form using terms like “volume”, “mass”, “space”, or “movement”. If we lose the language, how will we describe even in a general way the qualities of and merits of artworks, much less gauge their effectiveness and how well it meets the artist’s intentions?

Louisville’s visual arts scene is a peaceable kingdom and it surprises me how little actual dialogue occurs even among the artists. It is easy to find a comfort level here that will not be questioned. Whether that’s good for art and artists…remains to be seen. Perhaps we are valuing other things now?

So the big issue is whether or not we truly value this kind of critical writing. Perhaps online sources will one day fill the mental space that traditional print outlets have had as a given for so many years. Even though art writing has migrated to these other outlets, has the general audience followed?

Help keep the conversation going! Arts-Louisville invites submissions for response to this piece. Contact Keith Waits at artslouisville@gmail.com.

 

Albertus Gorman is an artist and curator from the Netherlands who has worked and exhibited in the Louisville area for many years. He is currently the Coordinator of Public Programs and Engagement at Carnegie Center for Art and History





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