Mr. Siedell’s final installment of his thought-provoking book is a discussion of art criticism. I was particularly interested in this section because it seems to me that art criticism, perhaps even more than the art itself, is what gives art such a bad name (the art critics that find something “artful” about an old, tossed out urinal come to mind). It is at art criticism that the wobbly wheels of this book, by its own subtitle “A Christian embrace of modern art,” break completely down.
Here is Mr. Siedell’s thematic statement on art criticism: The history of art criticism suggests that the ultimate goal of the art critic is to achieve and then sustain authority as an art critic. Think about that for a moment. The aim of art criticism is not to illuminate art, or find anything meaningful in art, or to advance appreciation for art, it is totally self-centered. It is mainly about gaining authority for oneself! What other branch of knowledge is so totally self-absorbed? I cannot think of one. One could imagine how the world would react if the goal of a newspaper reporter was not to report the news, but to make herself more important in the newspaper field. (I’m not saying that they do not do this in the newspaper field, I’m saying that don’t say that they do it, which makes all the difference. At least they give the appearance of actually trying. In the art critic field? No, it’s just about making ourselves look good!). Wow. Stunning.
Mr. Siedell also points out (although does not go into much detail, presumably because it makes art look bad) the incestuous relationship between artists, curators, and art critics, or as the he puts it the transformation of criticism and art criticism into various forms of marketing and promotion.
The book ends by calling Christians to be involved in the art world as artists and critics and curators. A call with which I agree. I can’t help but think that, much like the last stage of sculpture in the ancient world, most of the “art” of this century will, in the light of history, be recognized as poor art, masquerading as excellent art. Time will tell.