08 Oct, 2009

The Turner prize reveals art critics at their best

Posted by: admin In: Guardian

They get bad press in the art world, but newspaper critics possess incredible skill – as reviews of the Turner prize exhibition demonstrate

It’s very strange being on the other side of the fence. As a juror for this year’s Turner prize, I read the reviews of the exhibition yesterday morning at Tate Britain with huge interest. As it happens, the critics’ response has been pretty favourable. The most negative view of the show as a whole that I’ve seen is by Tom Lubbock in the Independent, but who could object to this acute critic’s observations? He seems to have Occam’s razor implanted in his brain.

Beyond that, it’s hard to go into detail about reviews, because the critics are making their own choices, and at this point I am a blank slate about the relative merits of the four artists. However, what really struck me is what a fine bunch newspaper critics are.

All the reviewers in yesterday’s papers wrote thoughtful, lucid comments. In the art world, newspaper critics are habitually dismissed as outsiders, or ignorant. But writing about art is a skill, and you only have to look at a few catalogues to realise how few curators possess it.

I think there’s more to it than accomplished prose. To write about art clearly you have to see it clearly: in truth, the muddy vagueness and turgidity of so much writing in art magazines and academic art history books reflects a turgidity of seeing. Not that I agree with all, or perhaps any, of the Turner reviews. But I do feel pleased that so much good criticism is on offer in the papers. Maybe the art world should call on our skills more often.

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