Art critics have a range of functions, motivations and influences: They may be engaged by different employers with different drivers: Newspapers, magazines, websites, galleries, exhibition and auction catalogues, academic research/publications. Increasingly, they may also dance to their own tune and review via personal blogs and vlogs, unfettered by outside influences (although they may be looking to make money via a monetized site).
Critics may therefore find themselves to some extent, influenced by the expectations of their employer/audience. Whilst some may have free rein to give entirely honest opinion, in some publications (catalogue, gallery for example), a more professional diplomacy may be required. If aiming to sell/promote work, clearly positive reviews are sought and, depending on the reviewer, delivered.
We might expect that a critic should aim to be balanced and fair, however, this may not always be the case. In some cases, critics may write deliberately to shock or provoke reaction. Jonathan Jones’ critique of Grayson Perry’s work in the Guardian is such an example. His headline
‘Quote me on this, Grayson: you’re not a true artist at all’ leaves the reader in no doubt as to what to expect in this acerbic critique of the artist’s work at Frieze London. And the critic does not disappoint.
Of the same work, Edward Clarke in the Londonist, states ‘Perry came across as intelligent, engaging, witty and modest but with a grounded understanding of his emerging position as a National Treasure. His appearance, dressed in a full faux-folk costume of his own design, made out of his own Liberty fabrics, was truly spectacular.’
Previously his work was described by the same publication (albeit by a different critic, Oli Gili) as ‘Here’s the predictable almost list of the things that grabbed us. We really, really liked Grayson Perry’s Walthamstow Tapestry, a thing of intricate sewn brilliance, describing E17 in graphic glory, from hoodie to high street shops.’
Personal preference, publication stance, audience expectation, desire for notoriety or a combination of all 4? Probably the latter.
Turner prize review by the FT
‘Opening this year’s Turner Prize to artists of any age, not just those under 50, has had immediate results: an impressive, wide-ranging shortlist and, in a gracious, thoughtful presentation at Hull’s Ferens Art Gallery, the most serious, accessible Turner exhibition this century.’
By contrast, Michael Glover, the Independent:
‘What all these artists have in common is that they are well established, well supported and well funded, so you could argue that this is a pleasingly professional show throughout. In fact, it feels a bit like four carefully chosen mini-retrospectives. Who deserves to win? A toss up between Anderson and Himid. Yet the show also bodes ill for the future because as the Turner is now constituted, it robs the young of the opportunity to show off the promise of their excessiveness. It is too much a drift in the general direction of a showering of gifts upon the fortunate’.
Art vlogger, Hennessy Youngman’s irreverent but thought-provoking critiques bring art criticism in a more accessible format to a younger, more diverse audience.
Warning: Explicit content – bad language
Similar, but perhaps bolder, critics exist in film. Compare, for example, Rotten tomatoes with, say Empire and the language, tone and drivers are different. Rotten tomatoes is the views of individuals with no-one to answer to, Empire relies, at least to some extent, on revenues from advertisers (film companies included) and is also expected to be more professional, so is more moderate in its approach. Reviewers such as Dr Mark Kermode have broad licence from the BBC but still review within certain boundaries of balance and good etiquette, in part, no doubt, to Kermode’s status as a professor of English whose thesis was in horror fiction.
Art critics may review on a personal level, on a paid professional basis with more/less influence from those who pay them. They may be deliberately controversial/thought-provoking, may challenge the establishmnet; they may be guided by art ‘fashion’, reviewing in the light of others and not stepping outside the perceived status quo.
For example, Durand-Ruel’s promotion of the Impressionists before they were ‘fashionable’ with the European art salons. Following adoption by a rather feisty, almost contrary US audience seeking to be ‘different’ from their European cousins, the Impressionists subsquently became ‘acceptable’, ultimately becoming highly collectible around the world, lauded by the same critics who had derided them.