25 Jun, 2009

Art criticism is not a democracy

Posted by: admin In: Guardian

You might think it’s arrogance or snobbery that leads me to criticise a work of art, and maybe it is – but I’m still right

My last comment, on Classified at Tate Britain, appears to read in a highly polarised way. All the early stuff in the show is basically rubbish, I find myself saying, but the later stuff by Tacita Dean, Damien Hirst and the Chapmans is fantastic. It’s a brutal expression of opinion that some may find arbitrary. But this is the right way to review new art.

The reason so much average or absolutely awful art gets promoted is that no one seems to understand what criticism is; if nothing is properly criticised, mediocrity triumphs. A critic is basically an arrogant bastard who says “this is good, this is bad” without necessarily being able to explain why. At least, not instantly. The truth is, we feel this stuff in our bones. And we’re innately convinced we’re right.

Critics are born, not made. I don’t know why I became convinced that I had more to say about art than other people, and an opinion that mattered more than most. But I did decide that – and persuaded others to listen.

The shortlist I have co-selected as a judge of the 2009 Turner prize has been unusually well-received, so say what you like, my taste in new art is apparently pretty good. That is unlikely to make me more modest in my reviews or more tolerant of bad choices and bad art in other people’s exhibitions.

Of course, by being so blunt, I run the risk of vilification. I will be seen as a vapid snob, elitist, etc. But I am no more guilty of these traits than anyone else who sets themselves up as a professional critic; I’m just trying to be honest. What do you think all the other critics believe – that their opinion is worth nothing? Unless you think you’re right, you shouldn’t pass verdict on art that is someone’s dream, someone’s life.

So, I’m sorry, but this is the deal. I don’t believe my views on film or TV or music are worth anything special. But I do believe – actually I know – that my instinct for what is valuable in art is unusually sure. When I say Hirst is a great artist and that Ron Mueck, Marc Quinn and Banksy are cheap, I do think my opinion is true – and that anyone who thinks otherwise is lacking in acuity.

Whatever criticism is, it is not a democracy.

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