Art Fag City at the L Magazine: What’s the Point of a Bad Review?

by Will Brand on October 4, 2012 · 16 comments The L Magazine

This week at the L Magazine, I wonder why we bother. Most art’s crap, and everybody knows it; can a case be made for the bad review?

Contrary to popular belief, writing negative reviews isn’t much fun. Sure, there’s pleasure in coming up with the perfect put-down for an overblown art star, but by and large you’re attacking working professionals doing an already difficult job. You feel like an asshole, even when you’re sensitive, even when you’re apologetic, and even when the artist’s dealer calls you up to compliment you on the review (as has happened to L Mag Art Editor Paddy Johnson). Peter Schjeldahl, the current art critic for the New Yorker and a master of the negative review, decided he was sick of criticism in 1976. In the lengthy poem he wrote to say goodbye, he pours word after word into an apology for every time “I mistook my hand-me-down taste / for the light of election, and poured ink on the worthy.” Like every good critic, he’s specific: “That supercilious dismissal of William Baziotes—horrible,” he writes, “Jim Dine, how could I, Joan Snyder, how could I … Richard Hamilton, where did I get off?” It’s a poem every critic—art or otherwise—should read in full.

Besides which, negative criticism is not an effective vehicle for change. In Don Thompson’s book The $12 Million Stuffed Shark, celebrity megacritic Jerry Saltz tells the author, “I can write that work is bad and it has little-to-no-effect, and I can write it is good and the same thing will happen.” Unless you’re at the absolute top—Schjeldahl, Roberta Smith at the Times, and… okay, that’s it—any negativity is likely to be written off or drowned out. After all, you’re working in an industry where every single other person, from curators and dealers to advisors and collectors, is essentially in the business of producing hype. If you want to change an artist’s practice, an MFA is a whole lot more efficient than a bad review.

Don’t worry, we don’t take our own advice. To read the full piece, click here.


JD Siazon October 5, 2012 at 1:33 am

A master art critic should be able to ideally control the entire farcical game the art world has become in the sense that they unarguably show time and time again with the inimitable competence of their articles the highest creative standards of both timeless cultural importance and immediate didactic worth thus forcing artists and journalists alike to either raise the quality of their output or risk being unmasked as the frauds they most certainly might be. In this age of mediocrity the art world needs writers that inspire admiration and fear much in the same manner that truth has always done for the shameless hordes who would subvert and bury it.

Donald Frazell October 5, 2012 at 6:40 pm

Of course. I know we have created generations of entitled children by
never saying no, but it must be done. if wrong, you can go and prove me
wrong, I dare you. But there must be definitions and standards, the
lowering of the ceiling of art into the gutter has produced what over
the last 50 years? Sewage. Letting those with absolutely no artistic
aptitude or experience of life be held up as art has ruined it.
being a joke , normal intelligent human beings of mind boyd and soul
now look at this stuff and shrug their shoulders and say, “eh, its art”
academic lie of art being selfish expression to sell degrees is about
business, not relevant creativity to those of balanced mind, body and
Therapy is not art.

This got posted accidentally below, like your comment JD, but your prose is even more dense than mine.

Donald Frazell October 5, 2012 at 10:11 pm

And there is no greater waste of money than a MFA. What use is that bought piece of paper? It doesnt bring jobs, it doesnt bring wisdom, it doesnt bring a reason for being, it is about style and fashion. The enemies of true creative art.
Art is the Highest COMMON Denominator of humanity, entertainment the lowest, and fashion the decadence of the effete who wish to Appear better than the filthy hoi polloi.

Truth will out, and art lasts, fashion doesn’t.

Cameron Masters October 9, 2012 at 10:37 pm

JD Siazon…

Where to begin. Shameless hordes… master art critics… admiration and fear… way to totally inflate the role of the heroic art critic! Nothing pretentious or overblow about your comments.

Donal Frazell… what are you even mad about?? Did you even read the article? All this talk about ‘truth’ is pretty perplexing.

…Ok now I’ll actually comment on this article instead of feeding the trolls.

Critics do often criticize (using the term loosely) art simply by choosing to not review it. In other words, if a good review is more effective, why bother giving an unworthy show/piece any commentary? Nothing too enlightening there, but it’s worth acknowledging that strategy. (Not that critics should critique every show on Earth just out of principle). The worst form of criticism would be to to neglect the show altogether.

Art critics obviously aren’t limited to critiquing specific works or shows — they can take issue with curatorial practices, federal/state funding issues, museum acquisitions and so on. Also, I do think it’s important to be vigilant of work that’s derivative or problematic in some way. Critics give artists an incentive to not BS their way through life.

ChristopherM October 10, 2012 at 9:38 am

Excellent comment Cameron – top to bottom. Thank you for that, sincerely.

Sometimes my own resistance to feed trolls struggles against a desire to just force feed a few of them until their sour bellies burst. I think I usually stay pretty disciplined about that, I don’t want to start getting off on that sort of hopeless trouble (it feels so inhumane too) — but even still, it sure warms my heart to see clear-spoken evidence that other folks at least smell the rot (sometimes subtle, sometimes not) once in a while. I’m too old to believe in overblown, unconvincing, simple, super-heroic, one-note myth-making about comforting absolutes and whatnot … to each their own, I guess. I think you were fair + humane enough about it. Well done, cheers:)

Donald Frazell October 10, 2012 at 5:44 pm

It is interesting how artistes love to laim there are “conversations” going on about art, when it is treally just the same ole Standard-ized mediocrity over and over, much ado about nothing. And so one must comment on such PC blinders that make art into the purse puppy it is now, instead of the guard dogg it is meant to be.
Defanged, neurtered, dumbed down, however you want to say it, art is now irrelevant. and so, one must speak up. Though most smart kids go intootherr subjects, not alot to talk about in art.
Well, there actually is, but the retrenched academics ahve made sure to make it as meaningless as possible, their only creative act, if castration is creative.
art collegia delenda est

In other words if you dont have a life and have nothing to say, well, then Callate!
Trolling for truth. Contempt art was stillborn,

Cameron Masters October 12, 2012 at 9:56 am

Donald. Your comments aren’t even remotely related to Will Brand’s article anymore — you just sound bitter and insecure and incoherent for no apparent reason. If you have such a problem with contemporary art, then keep making the kind of art that you like instead. En otras palabras, cállate usted.

Donald Frazell October 12, 2012 at 3:32 pm

Uh, yeah it is. Too bad they dont teach reading comprehension in art schools. I know they stopped teaching critical thinking, as my friend Sande Cohen quit Cal Arts because they wanted him to dumb it down, too hard for the tender artistes. We must be constructively self cirtical as artists, and weed out the bad. We got alot of gardening to do, so tend to your garden.

Academics have mistaken weeds for nutritious crops as they are so much easier to raise, takes no effort at all. The perfect scam, as the museo/academic/gallery complex is nothing but a ponzi scheme to separate naive your artistes from their daddies money.

Cameron Masters October 12, 2012 at 9:48 am

Thanks Christopher. I think it’s generally useless to engage people like that online, but it can be productive to provide a counter-argument for the sake of the balancing the thread out a bit. It’s too bad when the conversation veers off completely to some other unrelated point for no reason!

ChristopherM October 12, 2012 at 4:08 pm

Yep. And I’m someone who actually loves veering off. However, I try to keep my hands on the wheel and eyes on the road – more or less – as a favor to other drivers. I even read the article this time to be extra responsible.

Donald Frazell October 12, 2012 at 6:24 pm

Yeah, so true, especiailly those who dont read articles and then accuse others because of their own myopia.

art collegia delenda est

Cameron Masters October 12, 2012 at 6:45 pm

The article was about whether or not critics’ negative reviews were a valid or useful approach to criticism (a fact that you seem entirely unaware of, as you have yet to make a coherent comment in regards to it). YOU don’t have any reading comprehension.

I’m not here to talk about Sande Cohen. I didn’t go to CalArts. Frankly I’m also not here to argue with you about absolutely nothing.

Hugh Bellas October 15, 2012 at 12:33 pm

What’s the Point of a Bad Review?
That’s the point of This article.
That the artworld is as bad as Hollywood with aszkzzn and PC PR is obvious to all with balance and a real life.

The artscene is about career, providing games, toys and therapy for the nouveau riche, and of course parties, not art at all. Has been for 50 years since the Academic world was reborn like the undead it always has been.

I simply pointed the obvious out, duh. negative reviews serve to set the bar high, as much as positive. for every action, there is an opposite and equal reaction. Both must be used to promote creative art, not the Contempt art world of the effete pseudo intellectuals.

Cameron Masters October 15, 2012 at 7:26 pm

Oh, hi again Donald. I see you’re still crusading against the EEEVIL CONTEMPORARY ART WORLD, or Hollywood, or the English language, or something. I’m sure your insightful comments will help usher in a mystical, pure world of un-contemporary art and that we will all live in harmony together and Ultimate Truth will be restored across the globe, and stuff. I’m so glad you chose to share your knowledge to the nouveau-riche effete pseudo intellectuals, naive artistes, and retrenched academics that read the comments on Artfagcity articles.

Donald Frazell October 16, 2012 at 4:15 pm

You’re welcome. Obviously needed for the artscene, the rest of us know it all too well.

ChristopherM October 12, 2012 at 11:23 pm

especially those ones!

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