In an enlightening article in the January 2006 Art in America Nancy Princenthal states the critic's case for art criticism's frequently-noted flaccidity. She lays part of the blame on the sheer mind-blowing diversity of contemporary art. I'd have to agree with her on that point and a number of others.
From the bottom left column of page 45:
...judgement is simply not the most important thing a critic does. The question of whom, and what, a categorical judgement serves has no clear answer...it tends to shut down fruitful discussion..
(Read the entire article, it's worth your time.)
I'm not sure what she means by fruitful discussion, but I've never seen discussion shut down by judgement. If anything, harsh judgement tends to provoke further discussion. And some work absolutely begs to be judged. Take the Damien Hirst show of realistic paintings from last year. There was discussion, to be sure, but forget any fruit.
Blinding diversity serves the market extremely well, which is one terrific reason to distrust it, and to spend a great deal of energy to cut through it and sort things out. It takes evaluation and judgement to do that. But with art critics essentially cutting and running in the face of all this diversity, to which other ostensibly disinterested third parties can we appeal?
This takes me back to my foundation thesis. I'd contend that the diversity that completely overwhelms us all is yet another feature of the change in art itself and its relationship to our culture. Most art critics are unable to cope with it because they're working with outdated paradigms of art criticism.
Ms. Princenthal writes concerning some of the formal issues art critics face, among them being the fact that art criticism as a form arose rather spontaneously and arbitrarily (I'm paraphrasing, obviously.) It's always in the course of being worked out.
Another instructive point, but it appears as though not much has been worked out these past five years or so in the world of art criticism. Perhaps a new paradigm needs to emerge. Sphere: Related Content