On Art Critics: Is The Pen Mightier Than The Brush?

by Annie Saxena on Feb 10, 2023

Do art critics have a point anymore? Can they contribute anything to the development of art? Historically, art collectors & curators were regarded as art critics as the type of artworks they would purchase were generally categorised as canonical art. This would often limit artists’ creativity as any attempt at deviating from the mainstream art movement was often not received positively by critics. Artists usually need positive opinions from critics for their work to be displayed and sold in art galleries. So this has often led to a discomfiting relationship between artists and their critics.

Art criticism has changed with the internet. The Village Voice art critic Martha Schwendener suggests that art blogs helped shape a more laissez-faire climate for art writing. “Art blogs created a new, largely unedited, admirably ‘unprofessional’—hence, democratic—venue for people to speak their minds, gossip, or theorise about art.” The Internet has also changed how success in the art world can be interpreted. Not long ago it was assumed that an artist couldn’t ‘make it’ unless he or she moved to a major cultural hub. However, with the Internet artists can reach a global audience and offer opinions and images that can impact readers from the comfort of their own homes. For instance, Pearey Lal Bhawan’s ‘My Story’ initiative provides new artists the space to tell people the inspiration behind their art. Anyone with an internet connection can broadcast one’s opinion on social media & blogging sites. So then the question arises – Who’s really setting the standard for art? Is it the art critic or the artist?

Criticism of any kind is ultimately a subjective opinion. The critic gives a chance to talk, think and tell stories about art and artists. Venerated art critic Jonathan Jones opined on the relevance for art criticism, “art critics have their own justification as literature” and while it might not have “any impact on art but it does occupy a place in culture”. So while art criticism might not draw light onto what’s ‘good’ or ‘bad’ art, it creates space for debate wherein different ideologies can interact with each other. For instance, feminist art criticism, which emerged from the wider Feminist Movement in the 1970s, critically examined the visual representations of women in art.

Art has often played a role in propagating mainstream ideology. During the Second World War, many art critics who criticised fascist art imagery were censored and jailed for their opinions. Towards the end of the war, the UN set up the International Association of Art Critics to defend impartially freedom of expression and thought and oppose arbitrary censorship and contribute to a mutual understanding of visual arts and aesthetics in all cultures.

Artists and art critics complement each other. Instead of taking art at face value, art criticism gives a different perspective. What do you think? Are art critics still relevant to the art world or are they obsolete? Let us know in the comments below!