Tuesday, May 31, 2005


Critical mass

According to Scott Timberg's gloom-and-doom piece in the L.A. Times, traditional arts criticism is now going the way of the spinning jenny. There's some disagreement as to the pernicious impact of the Web: the excellent Alex Ross, whose blog recently featured a picture of his kitty, argues that the tug-of-war between print and pixels is not in fact a zero-sum game. "It's a way to refashion the art form," he insists, "from hopelessly anachronistic to a thriving, tech-savvy form." Dave Hickey is less sanguine about the state of affairs. "I do think that we're over," he says, making this hopelessly anachronistic critic tremble in his Bass loafers. "Being an art critic was one of those jobs like nighttime disk jockey or sewing machine repairman: It was a one- or two-generation job." He adds: "I'm like Wolfman Jack. The times have passed me by." Me, I'm not so nostalgic about the old days, when nitpicking titans walked the earth. At one point Timberg notes that latter-day critics "often pine for the 1940s and '50s, what the poet-critic Randall Jarrell called the 'age of criticism.'" But when Jarrell used that phrase, he didn't necessarily mean it as a compliment. Allow me to quote from the essay of the same name:
...a great deal of this criticism might just as well have been written by a syndicate of encyclopedias for an audience of International Business Machines. It is not only bad or mediocre, it is dull; it is, often, an astonishingly graceless, joyless, humorless, long-winded, niggling, blinkered, methodical, self-important, cliché-ridden, prestige-obsessed, almost-autonomous criticism.
So much for the Golden Age. I suppose what I'm saying is that every era gets the criticism it deserves, and I don't think it's so terrible to have a babel of contentious voices in print and on the Web rather than a papal bull from Addison DeWitt.

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