How do we make art criticism more accessible?

The current malaise in funding by the federal government has led to artists and arts administrators increasingly publicly making the case themselves for the continued cultural relevance of visual culture in Australia.

These pleas are numerous and many and have been published across most of the traditional mastheads and online publications, but I feel there is another way we could address the malaise: Within the criticism of the art itself.

Criticism at its best can be a very successful tool in drawing out hidden meanings and interpretation of an artist’s work. It makes the invisible connotations and symbols visible
to people who mightn’t have the visual tool kit to understand visual art content.

No, not like this. Image by The Futuristics, licensed under Creative Commons.

However, whilst journals like UN Magazine and Das Superpaper often do a terrific job of short and medium length criticism, and Crikey’s Daily Review offers intelligent and regular blog sized writing on art, it simply isn’t enough.

UN publishes twice a year while Das Superpaper no longer publishes new content, and the Daily Review is run as a blog and adjunct to Crikey’s regular publishing.

There is a gap here then for quality local writing that can contribute to keeping audiences interested in the arts, but what form does it take?

To my mind at there are several publishing options, and some don’t have to involve just criticism. There is a desperate need for a long form Australian journal along the same lines of a weekly New Yorker or The Monthly (which Schwarz Media do a very good job with).

However, there are also some non-negotiables, particularly given the wordier variants of arts writing (see Broadsheet, Discipline and Dissect) that whilst important and worthy, necessarily don’t always have the same reach due to their focus on academic and intellectual enquiry.

These are important things to reinforce a strong sense of discourse within the Melbourne and Australian visual art community, but what is sorely needed is content that is readable and opens up writing to wider audiences. Whilst contemporary visual art is by its very nature a sometimes hermetic and closed activity, making it accessible to a wider audience doesn’t necessarily mean being co-opted by industry or selling out to commercial interests. In some cases it actually opens up the opportunity for innovation.

There are several writers working in the field producing interesting work that manages to be intellectual yet also fun and entertaining:

Anton Vidokle of e-flux is also a visual artist in his own right. Image courtesy of Knoxville Museum of Art under Creative Commons license.

Kelly Fliedner produced a series of podcasts that were imagined love letters between different artworks at this year’s Next Wave Festival called Ships in the Night. The letters both contained formal criticism yet used the exciting of criticism as a romantic gesture and invited audiences in to an exciting space.

– Arts organisation e-flux have recently started blogging on articles in a format called Conversations, creating more open opportunities for discussion on political and social affairs in addition to arts conversation. Whilst not all posts generate discussion, it discuss make visible the connections between art and other aspects of life.

– Canvas is a podcast and radio program by Sydney artists Abdul Abdullah, David Capra and Nat Randall that airs on radio station FBi’s platform. It’s another relaxed, informal way for artists to talk about art with other artist without dumbing down the conversation.

There are a lot of opportunities for criticism to take in Australia, and some of these programs definitely point to a way forward.

While it won’t necessarily resolve the funding rut, it could help motivate an audience to advocate on artist’s behalf and help turn the critical tide.

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