Think about the walk to the back office, or the phone call from whoever’s in charge: The discussion of your performance.
How bad does a thing you did have to be before you get fired? Not, like, rubbing snot on the boss’s nipples—not something personal—something that would demonstrate that—whatever the basic skill you need to do the job is—you don’t own it….
(…to read the rest and see an ironically misspelled Alisa Yang illustration, click here)
19. Realize that the subject of a work of art is easy to write about & the style isn’t. Don’t waste time writing about the subject.
20. If reality TV, Netflix documentaries, Vice, Youtube or anybody else are already doing what the art does better, don’t write about it.
21. Never waste column inches saying something that’s obvious from the picture accompanying the column.
22. Realize the best & most honest way to talk about the art is to reproduce it. Demand your editor include lots of pictures, good ones.
23. Do not go and take a shitty snapshot. The gallery and artist have really good pictures, ask for them.
24. You see wonderful art: but, fuck, it has no story. Do NOT build a story. Close your eyes. You are Baudelaire. Rebuild the experience in words
25. If all the art does is show rich old people things in a gallery poor young people already knew outside the gallery, don’t write about it
26. Great artists can be born, ignored all their lives, and die. That can happen. Realize that does happen. Moby Dick was a failure.
27. If you’re writing about an artist, you’re doing PR for them if you want to or not. Your loyalty should be to the truth.
28. Ask installation artists where the money to put their show together came from.
29. Do not reward art just for being big. More generally: do not reward artists just for being rich or beloved by the rich.
30. Start a band or do some music journalism. It will free you of the obligation to try to meet people to sleep with at art openings.
31. Sometimes students make the best art. Sometimes 17 year olds who can’t afford art school make the best art. Galleries won’t tell you this
32. Realize all group shows are bullshit. Use them for what they are: mercenary opportunities to get the folks you like in front of people
33. Don’t pretend your opinion is fact. Instead: if you want authority, state your prejudices upfront. Like so.
34. Read: David Thomson’s Biographical Dictionary of Film (that’s how you describe people)
35. Read Borges “Collected Nonfictions” & David Foster Wallace’s “Tense Present” & Orwell’s “Politics & the English Language”
36. Read Lolita. This is the best & most extended work of art criticism in the world. Humbert is the critic, Lolita is the art. Be careful.
37. When in the presence of beauty or talent, be humbled by the realization that it is unknowable & bigger than you OR the artist.
38. If all the kids like it and all the grown-ups don’t, the kids are right.
39. You can chip away, but you can’t know it all. Mathematicians admit there might always be another solution
40. Don’t look for messages or meaning. Everything has tremendous meaning. Look at art like food: it’s tasty—find out how it got that way.
41. Read Susan Sontag “Against Interpretation” & at least one essay by Sarah Horrocks on some comic book you never heard of
42. Read David Sedaris’ 12 Moments In the Life Of The Artist. Use it as a gut check: am I one of these assholes? Why not?
43. The artist’s goals and intentions don’t matter in evaluating the art any more than the baker’s in evaluating a cake
44. The wall text is there for people who hate art but feel class anxiety telling them they shouldn’t. Ignore it.
45. If it tastes good, it IS good as far as you will ever know. If it tastes bad, it IS bad as far as you will ever know.
46. Once you read 12 Moments in the life… read Thorsten Veblen’s Theory of the Leisure Class. You write about Veblen goods. Don’t forget.
47. If you are interested in the artist: go be interested, write a book. But it won’t tell you if the art’s good or bad.
48. Abstract art had a very short heyday because critics had a hard time writing about it: no subjects to grab on to. Be better than them.
49. Go to the little church in Rome where they keep The Ecstasy of St Teresa. If it isn’t at least that good, don’t write about it.
50. If you don’t know, don’t _guess_. Ask. You are, after all, a journalist.
51. “Important” just means “influential” which just means “easy to copy”. None of those words mean “good”.
52. Never ascribe to simultaneous spontaneous mystical agreement what can be explained by capitalism.
53. Vasari started a tradition of art criticism where the Renaissance was a sort of TSA gate you had to go through to get to “real” art for 100 years, hard-working art historians have been tryna correct that mistake. Listen to them. If you don’t know who Bihzad is, learn.
54. Once a year read a major article in that month’s Artforum. Then ask everyone you meet in the art world if they read it. (they didn’t read it, but it’ll give you a sense of proportion to realize they didn’t)
55. Remember the art isn’t just competing with other art, it’s competing with everything else you could do that day. It must win anyway.
56. Remember the current critical consensus was formed by people who are so high they still like jazz. Drugs make boring things interesting.
57. Never trust an artist, critic, or curator who says they are “interested in problems…” that they aren’t actually trying to solve.
58. The gallery business survives by claiming they found a genius once a month. The excuse is “Well they might be..blah blah….test of time…blah blah….” (There is no test of time)
59. ..and even if there was: a world where it’s in nobody powerful’s interest for art to ever depreciate short circuits any test of time
60. When there is corruption or injustice artists & dealers cannot afford to name names. Not even Banksy names names. You can. Do it.
61. Right now some would-be great artist is exhausted from just spending 12 hours making an elf ear for some tv show. Realize that happens.
62. Arthur Danto said The Polish Rider was deeper and more searching than a random agglomeration of paint that happened to look exactly like The Polish Rider. And he _still had a job_ afterwards. So: the bar’s pretty low.
63. Don’t say “we” unless you’ve read a lot of neuroscience.
64. If it looks like a prop or film still from a movie the artist wishes they’d made but didn’t, don’t write about it.
66. It’s 2013 so everyone gets to be told what artists have been told since the ’60s: your ability to get noticed is not just more important than your job, it IS your job. You enjoying that? Is it making your work better?
67. Anything can ignite debate with a high enough ratio of how loud you are to how boring it is.
…thank you. Now if you’ll excuse us, we’re going to get some noodles
See you next time.
p.s. should add one more:
68. If you disagree with any of this—or anything an artist or critic says—and don’t talk to them about it: you’re part of the problem.
I think by about 2025 it’ll be obvious this was a transitional time. The art that was about as good as the old art was going to get had been made and the art that was going to be the new art didn’t know what it was yet. Music, movies and books were all going weird places. The only arts undeniably in the ascendant were HBO and cartoons.
"It wasn’t the technology," they’ll say, "and it wasn’t how many people had it. It was how long it took to find something to say that all that technology in all those hands wasn’t already saying.”
100 years ago, painters had to start figuring out what they could tell you that cameras weren’t already telling you.
Now every artist in every medium has to figure out what they can tell you in a world where you’re on camera an average of 75 times a day, the NSA has your entire life story in phone records whenever they want it, and everyone in the world is Liking what everyone else in the world had for breakfast every morning.
What kind of information isn’t already there?
If it’s 2025 and you’re reading this and you thought “Well all he did was paint” know at least that I realized it was a problem. Know that I was looking, and if all I did was paint it was because I thought the new information might’ve been in there somewhere.