by Dallas Fellini, Margaryta Golovchenko, and Henry Heng Lu
I’m a young writer who has recently entered the field, but already feel demoralized by an exponentially-expanding list of personal grievances I have about art criticism. Reading issue 145, I was reassured to see that many other writers shared my grievances, despite all the supposed progress in the field.
In the editorial note, Merray Gerges contextualized these grievances by posing the question: “is visibility directly proportionate to power?” The International Transgender Day of Visibility just recently passed, which reminds me of the times I’ve seen words like “visibility” and “diversity” paraded around by institutions in place of the actual work needed to produce meaningful structural change. I feel similarly about the so-called progress that has been made in the field of art criticism, which has left marginalized artists exhausted with the idea of being seen, and instead desperately wishing to be heard.
When presented with Kim Dhillon’s question, “if the colonial model for art criticism didn’t exist… what else might be possible?,” I’m overwhelmed with potentialities. A few months ago, I had the pleasure of participating in a work.shop with David Balzer as a part of C’s “Experiments in Criticism” series, in which we worked together to generate “uncoupling strategies” for separating unattractive aspects of the art world from our writing as emerging critics. For me, the most overbearing one is the colonial, hierarchical assignment of value that art criticism is based upon, which is the reason most art writing follows, embellishes or responds to a work, rather than coexisting non-hierarchically with it.
I’ve been ruminating on what an alternative to this structure would look like, and have started to develop a project that focuses on promoting dialogue between artists and art writers, using storytelling and skill-sharing. I’m hop.ing that this will allow for a more honest and conversational approach to art criticism, and help ease my own weariness navigating a field with a history so deeply rooted in hierarchy.
Dear C Mag,
Esmé Hogeveen and Emma Sharpe’s “Tell Us What You Really Think” and Casey Beal’s “The Limits of Empathy: Criticism and Editing Across Borders” latched into my memory long after finishing C145. In approaching criticism from both ends of the editorial desk, so to speak, these two features brought to mind Helena Reckitt’s article on the emotional labour of curating, which clearly extends to writing and editing as well. For white editors especially, empathy needs to be rooted in the willingness to admit that one’s own experience and world view is not immune to error, otherwise one may continue perpetuating colonial behaviour under the guise of “linguistic purism,” as de.scribed by Beal. In continuing to reflect on the ways privilege manifests in this work, and this time thinking about certain responses Hogeveen and Sharpe’s survey, I found myself wondering to what extent I would be willing to forge my genuine reaction to an exhibition or piece of writing for the sake of cultivating a potential professional connection—a choice not everyone is at liberty to make.
Art criticism today, as Hogeveen, Sharpe and especially Beal remind us, is about challenging and dismantling the existing power structures that dictate who can perform the emotional labour of art writing and how; the authors continue the conversation where Amy Fung’s Before I Was a Critic I Was a Human Being left off. The Baudelairean image of the critic is long dead and buried in these two features, as well as in issue 145 as a whole, which functions as a periodic reminder that art is not and cannot be apolitical, particularly for people in the back.
Hi C Mag,
When I was still seeking a place in the art world as a writer, I was constantly reminded of the need to be clear and careful; to read between the lines; to follow the protocols; and, to put myself into others’ shoes (but can you always, or should you at all?—something Casey Beal explores in C145). The last issue made me think about how to transition my mind from trying to find answers to “How can I talk about it?” to figuring out “How can we better understand each other?”
I found comfort and resonance in Joana Joachim’s words in “Curating, Criticism and Care, or, ‘Showing Up’ as Praxis,” when she points out the lack of sincerity and sustained efforts of predominantly white art institutions to effect structural changes for BIPOC workers, who do not need institutions to celebrate their identities—nor do artists. Superficial representation, which is only implemented to fulfil “diversity” agendas, hinders meaningful, informed conversations and the criticality (which is often preemptively avoided for safety) necessary for the healthy growth of BIPOC practices. To be clear, this criticality should not be used to justify shallow, unsupported analysis nor to attack works rooted in sensibilities and cultural backgrounds not shared by the writer or speaker.
May we all—as writers, critics, editors, publishers, viewers and readers— imagine and contribute to a better ecology that is more complicated for the information, knowledge production and distribution of BIPOC artistic practices.