Recently, the Columbia School of Journalism launched a special five-year study of cultural criticism in America, to be chaired by the longtime counsel to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Ashton Hawkins.
The proposed study dovetails with a recent survey by Columbia of fine arts criticism in newspapers, a report that was covered by Christopher Knight in the Los Angeles Times. Most remarkably, according to Knight's piece, 91 percent of the approximately 300 critics polled concurred with the proposition that the primary function of art critics is to "educate the public," rather than offer an opinion, or even "criticism" of the art under consideration.
What a sorry, sorry state, thus, is the present critical mindset, and why is this so? First and foremost, the typical critic nowadays is nothing more than a whore-for-hire. Witness the recent Art Basel Miami bacchanal, in which the travel, hotel rooms and expenses of visiting art journalists were assumed either by the Miami Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau, or by a related arts p.r. agency.
We are old enough to remember when Clement Greenberg was roundly denounced for accepting free artworks, praising his art buddies without acknowledgment or, heaven forbid, altering David Smith's sculpture. Now the average big-shot critic who routinely denounces "festivalism" is having his or her chit punched by the very festival being covered, without admitting the hidden sponsorship.
Oh, but no, Charlie, we're not compromising our opinion, are we? It's even more insidious, of course -- because these same "journalists" on the take don't cover the galleries, shows, artists, etc., who can't afford, or are not sophisticated enough, to offer minimum baksheesh for entrée.
Hence, the average critic separates the daily mail between the haves and the have-nots -- the favors, invitations and back-scratching culminates in Whitney Museum parties full of actors and actresses asking, "What am I doing here?", Andrea Rosen in the midst of some slutty fashion spread in New York magazine, or Jeffrey Deitch blowing the world from the cover of some bogus society magazine, just to sight a few signifiers.
The have-nots are artists and galleries trying to make a buck, for whom the cost of stamps is a major expense -- and when they hit, once in a while, with a hot show, the artist, since nothing's ever in writing but the press clippings, whores off to a newer, hipper venue.
In such a feckless environment, one begins to admire a star like Cindy Sherman, who sticks with the same space, Metro Pictures, for 25 years, and enjoys all of her orgasms in private.
As Charlie Brown used to say: ("Sigh!") When, oh when, will things change?
When pigs have wings
and foxes fly
and lightning bugs
land in the eye
when virgins lay down
in the glade
and life is made
the cows go "moo!!"
is spread across
the dawning plain,
when poets breathe
and all creation counts again.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).