If it’s not good writing, it can’t be good criticism, to paraphrase Walter Benjamin in “The Author as Producer.” That’s the basic premise of my graduate program in Art Criticism & Writing at the School of Visual Arts. The real history of art writing and criticism is vast, including everyone who has ever written well on art and its relation to the rest of the world. The discipline of art history has its own traditions, methodologies, terminology, and biases. Criticism needs a new “expanded field” of its own, now, and this expanded field has to be grounded in radical literature and philosophy.
We also need to stop pretending that International Art English is something new and exciting, rather than just the same old conformist academic writing in globalized “new institutional” drag. In their analysis of IAE in Triple Canopy, Alix Rule and David Levine ask “How did we end up writing in a way that sounds like inexpertly translated French?” and then come up with a pretty convincing answer.
Criticism is not in crisis. Criticism is crisis. That’s what it means. And crisis leads to change. There are many pressing social and political crises in the world that criticism needs to address. When the art world tries to buy out or subsume and subdue criticism, or to tame it into irrelevance, there is a tremendous loss of energy. Trying to remove risk from the system doesn’t make it stronger; it enervates it.
Our communications environment is changing very rapidly, and I believe that this change is part of a larger epochal shift, from linear writing and literacy to the image, and this shift will affect the relation between writing and art, and between texts and images, in profound ways. Writers and artists are going to be increasingly shaped by, and intimately involved in, this transformation.
David Levi Strauss