embedded writing

I was talking the other night about the problems I have with writing about the art and, in this case, specifically the art world. The person I was having the conversation with thought that I was in some way independent which meant I could write what I liked and be objective about the things going on around me. But I vehemently disagreed with this point – I think I am possibly the least independent of people because I am so embedded in the system (as in the journalists who are “embedded” with troops in wartime). This is manifested either as a result of my work or the social situation, creating an inevitable bias towards my colleagues or my friends which I am constantly trying to balance in my writing. There is always the possibility that I cannot afford to say what I truly feel as I am concerned by the possibility of adversely affecting business or ruining relationships.

The question is can we ever find a critic who is truly independent? This is an impossible task. All critics will have a bias one way or another, some of which are more apparent than others. I also believe that to approach a point of pure freedom from bias would actually be counter-productive. One must take some kind of position in relation to the work in order to measure it up. But it’s this positioning which has to be managed lest it revert too much in the direction of bias (I also don’t believe in anonymity: without accountability opinion is worthless).

So I guess I am partly struggling with a problem of ethics, and partly a problem of social relations.

Looking at the reality of the situation I have to ask myself: would I jeopardise a friendship to speak my mind in a public forum such as this? I would like to think that I could say what I felt, with due consideration that what I was saying was worth saying and was well said (within my capabilities), at the same time giving the subject their due and proper opportunity to be presented accurately (to the best of my knowledge, a proviso which must be recognised where appropriate).

That said, I do have a tendency to start with the negatives when I approach art – I am suspicious of an immediate positive reaction. In some cases I end up working through these negatives to ultimately reach a positive position, and in other cases I am simply unable to resolve them and they remain negative. My point being that the process of working through my feelings is a mark of respect to the subject, and one which distinguishes the result as critique and not ad hominem criticism.

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embedded writing by escdotdot is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International

3 thoughts on “embedded writing

  1. Often more significant than how rigorously or critically you work through a piece of work or exhibition in your writing is how that angle is perceived. As a gallerist, a negative reaction to an exhibition by a gallerist or curator perceived as your competitor on some level will rarely be taken seriously, no matter how justifiable the position may be. On the other hand, a negative reaction to an artist in which you have a financial interest will probably be taken very seriously–but, well, then you're fucked.

    • indeed! well I'm really not saying anything earth-shattering here, it's something we all go through whenever we write something. I'm just trying to articulate the positive aspects of it. I should just relax and say that history is the only arbiter that matters, but that or course is just as fallible in it's sanctions – but at least I'll be dead and won't care (one assumes).

    • Actually, the original post was a bit of hand-wringing over my role here, and confusing it with that of a critic, which I am patently unable to be precisely because of my involvement in the consequences – the perception, as you say. Everyone can think critical thoughts, but the expression of those has to be carefully managed. To be fair this applies to everyone, it's a fact of life even, but it manifests itself in different ways depending on one's role in the equation. So I guess it's back to the drawing board with that super-critical exhibition review that led to this crisis of confidence!