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One of the easiest ways to gain followers and notoriety is by shredding someone else’s work. There are countless influencers who became millionaires by posing as despotic and unattainable connoisseurs, but really know quite little about the subject. Just as there exists fake news, there also exists fake criticisms when it comes to contemporary art. I’d like to focus on those specifically.
To begin with, I believe that in the art world we have many kinds of “critics” who have no idea of what this profession implies. They assume it’s a matter of opinion rather than an investigation, and thus proclaim themselves experts.
As an art promoter, my work takes place behind the scenes of the artists’ studio. I talk to them about their processes, and often we’ll talk about the feedback and criticism they have received from different people at different times and forums – taking into account the fact that it’s unreasonable to expect the same kind of comments from a portfolio review, a studio visit or a jury in a prize or call. The criticisms they receive can sometimes leave them unmotivated, confused or frankly upset. I have often found myself in a position to help them see why they should or shouldn’t heed those comments.
In the ten points listed below, I indicate easy-to-spot false criticisms, so that – in case of being subjected to one – an artist can turn a deaf ear before giving up on their career.
Note: This article is also intended for those who read the critics, so that they may decide for themselves whether or not they should believe them.
1. Don’t fall for the façade; ie the way they talk, what they wear, how they move.
Check for credentials. If you intend to submit your work to receive constructive criticism from someone, investigate the person. Analyze their resumé or portfolio for anything he/she has said, written or done that you (not somebody else) find relevant, interesting or worthy of admiration. Have they been approved by serious institutions that go beyond their local field?
I know of a critic who has not taken a single art course up until recent years. He goes to exhibitions and claims to be a “critic”, posing exactly like the ones stereotyped in movies. He’ll write uninformed opinions and judge artists’ work and local initiatives in a mocking, sometimes even aggressive, tone. There’s many like him.
My advice is: don’t believe a critic even if they’re said to be very important and has a ton of followers.
2. Not everything that glitters is gold. Review the contents before believing the story.
We must bear in mind that in art, as in any other professional medium, there are those who get their credentials through their friend or contacts, or other ways. So, even if the “critic” has published in specialized media or has had important recognition from a respectful institution, go directly to the source and read these texts yourself.
Analyze all the arguments and make sure they are valid. Verify if there are plagiarism, spelling mistakes, improper quotation and if it's really worth it. Check their credentials – are they accurate?
3. Forget about the romanticized stereotype of the critic who is dark, enigmatic, rebellious, anti-system, brutally honest and mad.
There is always a critic, artist or teacher who believes they have the moral authority to tear down somebody else’s work. The truth is they are just people stuck in a dark hole of frustration and depression, who instead of giving advice, an objective argument or true feedback choose to discourage and contaminate their own feelings of inadequacy.
They are easy to find: They don’t write anything positive about anything or anyone. Another defining characteristic is their tendency to assume they know how to do your work better than you. Don’t wear yourself out, not even to contradict them. You’d better return to your studio and keep working.
4. Research comes before an opinion.
If in a text you encounter phrases such as: “the piece was so bad I didn't even bother to see what it was about” or “you could tell the piece didn’t make sense from miles away”, you can stop reading. A critic’s job is to investigate, ascertain and inquire in order to find the proper arguments and transmit what he or she saw in someone else's work, not decide whether or not they like or understand something. If, for example, a critic does not ask a single question or allow the artist to speak during a portfolio review or a thesis presentation, their criticism might not very well be worth it.
5. Don't Trust a Flatterer.
It’s always better to hear good things about your work, but it’s important to be objective. Be suspicious when someone tells you that everything is at its prime.Of course, compliments are always appreciated, but it may also be that these comments come from someone who is not being objective. It may be due to lack of critical thinking, fear of hurting feelings or, in the worst case, interest. Are the flattering comments due a good networking opportunity for them, a quick entrance to certain circles, or simply just money?
If the answer we get is that the work is beautiful, pretty or nice, it doesn't help much. We need context from the critic; why he/she finds it relevant, any insight on the work’s context. They should analyze and question the work’s impact and originality, or even point out references and paths that enrich the work.
6. Confuse and you will reign.
Use of language is important.It’s quite common to meet critics who use excessive academic language with the intention of showing off their knowledge instead of clearly transmitting an idea. This is an exercise that has more to do with ego than with true criticism.I’m sure many do it because they’ve no idea what they’re talking about and apply the “Confuse and Reign” maneuver to fit in and sound as if they’re knowledgeable. There are others, however, who use this way of speaking simply to show off.If the criticism you receive is overflowing with the most complicated words explaining something you’re definitely not understanding, this may be the case.
My advice: take what you can of the presumptuous critic who does know (don’t mind the clueless), and ask for a second opinion from someone who may understand him/her better.
7. Anonymous criticism - memes
Intelligent critical statements can be made through humor and satire. Making memes became popular around 2012. Today, millions of profiles provide critical content- these people are just haters hiding in anonymity.
My advice: If whoever is criticizing you refuses to face you, ignore it. It’s nothing more than a social media troll.
8. Bravery behind the screen
If the criticism is a provocation on social media and the "critic" wants you to answer in the comments section, don’t fall for it. If his/her opinion seems insignificant, don’t bother to answer. However, if you think it may represent risk to or misinforms on your work, publicly invite him/her to have an open discussion or debate live and in person.
Make them responsible for their words and leave them speechless in front of everyone. It’s the least that must be done to stop a bully. Now, if it turns out the critic's arguments are valid and he or she exposes them in such a way that not only you, but others can take advantage of that dialogue, it will be a good - and always necessary - exercise.
9. Ignorance is bold
Avelina Lesper is the best example to describe this type of "criticism". If you work within contemporary art practices and have a project being criticized by someone who thinks art is exclusively painting and sculpture, laugh out loud and keep going.In general, ignorant people tend to be envious. for example, if you are being criticized by an artist who didn’t get selected for the exhibition you were, then feel sorry for the guy and don’t take their opinion seriously.
10. And finally, if the criticism comes from a nepotist, crony or the corrupt... Next!
There are conflicting interests and "sides" -so to speak- in the art field. If you ask for a criticism, or receive one from someone who is part of a certain “side” that is not yours, and it turns out the comments are destructive, I recommend you toughen up and let those comments slip. Especially if this person checks any of my previous points.And of course, if you are a woman, don't listen to misogynistic critics; if you’re gay, don’t listen to the homophobe; and so on. Before accepting criticism, check their bias.
Few things are appreciated as much as true constructive, intelligent and enriching criticism. Yes, these are tips to identify false criticism, but it’s equally important to take seriously the comments and contributions that come from selfless professionals; those who care about understanding before commenting; who have experience and know what they are talking about; preferably someone you admire; they are respectful; they contribute; they try to say things from which one can build on and reflect. Above all, those who emit good vibes, have no interest in causing offence or harm.This text is not about adopting the attitude of the parent who complains to the school for their child’s bad grades. I wouldn’t like to encourage artists to completely ignore all criticism; my intention is that they too become critical and understand where criticism is coming from before taking it seriously.