This is my learning log for the OCA Ditigal Photographic Practice course

Monday, 21 April 2014

Criticising Photographs–Terry Barrett 5th edition 2012

Introduction: I have started reading this book which is a closely written work of eight chapters. This is my summary for Chapter 1. As I  have now finished DPP coursework I will continue to review each chapter in my Documentary blog here:
Chapter 1 About Art Criticism
The chapter is divided into eight sections. I have made notes on each.
Definition of Criticism
In the mass media, criticism is generally a negative judgement which does nothing to help us understand the work. Criticism is about promoting interest and asking questions about meaning rather than than the work’s aesthetic worth. With photographs, look closely at them and pinpoint in words what the provoke within you that helps to think feel and understand the work and what the artist is trying to communicate.
“Criticism is informal discourse about art to increase understanding and appreciation of art”. A D Coleman
Sources of Criticism
Anywhere art is displayed, read about and promoted or sold. Classrooms, art colleges, the newspapers and exhibition catalogues and specialist collection in books are a good source. The factors that can influence the tone and content of the review can include editorial policies and style, personal preference of the reviewer and politics.
Types of Criticism
The two most valuable types of criticism:
Exploratory  Aesthetic Criticism does not generally provide judgements but does attempt to provide the reader with a full account of the aesthetics of the work to ensure that they can experience all that can be seen.
Argumentative Aesthetic Criticism on the other hand will attempt a full interpretation of the work and  then make a judgement of the work’s positive (or  negative) attributes. There will be a full account of the writer’s arguments based on stated criteria. They will attempt to persuade the reader using these arguments and are prepared to defend their opinions.
Other types may include:
Applied criticism – of a journalistic nature which is directed at the work. Theoretical criticism attempts to define photography and uses photographs to clarify arguments e.g Camera Lucida by Barthes. Connoisseurship is severely limited and is usually limited to pronouncements rather than reasoned argument.
Background of Critics
Varied, many have PhDs and have studied art and photography as art. Others may be artists themselves and/or teachers of art.
Stances of critics towards criticism
This section details the attitudes of certain critics towards their  work. A quote from Grace Glueck sums it up; “inform, elucidate, explain and enlighten”.  While A D Coleman (1975) says that when writing, critics should be…. independent of the artists and institutions, have a regular output, the work must be publicly accessible, be contemporary and about diverse artists. The critic should openly adopt a sceptics posture.
Relations between critics and artists  
The critic is writing for the public not the artist. He should be aware of the artist and his/her work but must not want to ‘be loved’ by the artist. Critique is not a judgement. The critic should provide an opinion and their own interpretation.
Art of Criticizing Criticism
Critics often disagree. This is a good thing and promotes debate.  According to Donald Kuspit, critics should be:
  • honest in their judgement
  • clear in their writing
  • straightforward in their argument
  • unpretentious in their manner
Jerry Saltz on why criticism is often obscure:
Why is it that so much art criticism is indecipherable – even to ‘us’? If art has lost its audience then surely this type of smarter-than-though criticism has played its part. Criticism isn’t the right word for it anyway. Much of this writing feels cut off from its objects. When a critic reports back about what he or she seen it should be in accessible, clear language and not a lot of brainy gobble-dygook that no-one understands. A critic should want to be understood. But the price you pay for this accessibility is dear. You can lose your ‘pass’ into certain academic circles, or it might mean that you don't get asked to be on all those panels that discuss art and its relationship to biogenic whatever and it may mean you won’t get asked to too many CAA conventions – but that’s OK.”
I have a feeling I shall be making good use of that quote in the coming years.
The Value of Criticism
Reading criticism gives you an increased knowledge and appreciation of art. The act of criticism also allows you to consider the work in more depth and think about what the artist’s intentions and meanings are.

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