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Art and criticism Petar Ignjatovic


Art criticism, as a new force the artist has to count upon, was a product of the same development which made the artist a citizen, liberating him from the status of a craftsman or acour­ tier. This development also forced upon the artist a new, imper­sonal and anonymous relationship with those his work was intended for due to the mediation of exibitions, gallery owners and the press, the communication with a work of art resembled in increasing degree a business transaction. In place of patron­ age of the powerful and a direct contact with the users of his skill, the artist now obtained the >>audience« and the »criticism« or, more precisely, the »audience« now had two heads, one that judges and the other that buys and rewards, while the artist had to flatter both.

From the beginning there was no direct (necessary) con­nection between theoretical thinking on the arts and the art criticism, as there was no such connection between aesthetics and creativity. The aesthetics based its generalizations upon the arbitrary delimitation of the area of practical artistic experience (excluding »non-classkal« or »non-European«, »decorative«, »avantguarde«, »kitsch«, etc.). Its definitions are always the pro­duct of compression and of the search 'for the essential, while in a work of art the whole is essential, with all formative factors having equal value and making it precisely what it is. Therefore, the criticism judges on the basis of a practical ex­perience wherein the knowledge of theory is rather an ornament than a necessity. The theory is important for it only insofar it can use general theoretical formulations (which really express the notions of a milieu) dealing with the relationship of art and »reality«, with the artistic truth, the artistic expression, the individuality of an artist, the development of arts, etc., without which any mediation on the immediate work of art would be deprived of that >>universal« standpoint which se:Jarates the criticism from a private opinion. The very notion of >>aesthetic« is specially useful, since it being a succinct and sufficiently vague expression of conventions and norms of the taste -sometimes enables the criticism to get out from the situations seemingly without an issue, particularly in those cases when the >>aesthetic acceptability<< forms the only thread that will connect a work of art with the existing aesthetic experience and enable the criticism to construct afterwards its own repre­ sentation of such a >>work<<.

The criticism strives to explain, in an objective and impartial [149] manner, the meaning and value of a work of art, but since the necessary conditions of the critical experience are the conditions of taste which, seemingly, are not >>within the object<<, but in the nascent relationships toward the object, the criticism cannot achieve this as it bases its evaluation not on the qualities of the work itself but on its own feeling of a work of art. All that the criticism disposes with, in a theoretical and methodological sense, remains in the area of general formulas and symbols which are equally applicable in all cases. The ambiguity of a work of art the criticism often talks about, is just another name for the impotence to evaluate and classify it in a truly objective, i. e. definitive manner.
Any critical approach to a work of art presupposes the ascertaining of its relationship to current and past artistic pract­ices, i. e. to currents, models and patterns in regard to which it obtains a wider consent and knowledge. Discovery or a definition of that relationship, that critical basis or a strong point, is a great moment of all criticism, while the works which »uncover<< their critical basis only with difficulties are esteemed as the worthy and hard opponents. In addition to this, the criticism uses in its analysis certain binominal sets (epic-lyric, rational-irrational, closed form-openform, coordina­tion-subordination, etc.) or creates them, starting from the posi­tive end of the scale (intelligibility, measure, coherence, etc.). Such a critical apparatus provides the criticism with great possilbilites of speculation on the values of a work of art, as it can be oriented in any direction, with an arbitrariness which makes it possible to apply the same conceptual apparatus in approaching both a vain attempt and a powerful work of art. It embelishes the critical text, but, being value-neutral, does not stipulate a truly critical judgement.
The criticism sees contemporary art with its anti aestheticism and pseudo scientific problematizations and approaches (to its own medium or to ,a wider social context) as a vast laboratory for the study of aesthetic material. When it agrees with the »artness<< or the »aesthetic minimum<< in a work of art, the crit­icism overpowers it easily, helped by corresponding norms of that craft: first, applying without discrimination its complete critical apparatus; second, bringing, through an appropriate crit­ical model, any artifact in the connection with generally known patterns, either as their continuation or as their opposite; third, introducing a dialectical switch where by simplicity, complexity or spontaneity are just >>apparent«, the message - »hidden<<, etc.
Such criticism is successful in all circumstances. Today it can process anything that is placed in front of it labeled as >>art<<, permitting itself a very small amount of »faulty products« that gave it such a »fame<< in the past. It seems, however, that these good intentions of the criticism that accepts everything, are an expression of its feeling of superiority over the creativity and of its indifference to the pursuits of the artists who wish to make impossible such leveling and functionalizing approach. Contemporary criticism rarely allows itself to enter the conflicts over deviation from the existing artistic cliches.

It routinely approaches its task of classification, finding in each achievement a quality, a value, an attitude, etc., which can be always accepted as a »contribution« to the armoury of the existing values. The­ rebylit performs a kind of adoption into the big family of arts even of those works whose intent was not to »contribute« to something they wished to expose to mockery or criticism. In some cases the criticism can perform this adoption only by over­ looking the simple nature of the works in question, attributing to them new qualities and meanings in accordance with the cliche that simple must be complex, whereby the criticism just confirms its necessity in a world where a bicycle wheel is not a bicycle wheel but something far more intricate and exciting.
The criticism is always more present in the public than the artist (and his work) since it is a mediator between them, with its own notions of expectations of the public and of possibilities of the artist. This exposed position gives the criticism an appe­arance of an active and important role in the creation of new values. Either as the vulgar »voice of the public« or as the responsible >>voice of the society<<, the criticism always has in front of itself a quite definite public and society, and therefore, in a sense, it never errors (excepting rudeness and ignorance).

Contemporaries have the smallest possibility to discover in crit­ical judgements that which later will be recognized - without any intelectual effort - as erroneous. It can be said, however, that these errors of the criticism are commensurate to its social respectability: when it is most respected the critidsm is at its most inhilbitive, and when it is informal and without »influence« (as the art itself} it is a true follower of the art. Constantly vacillating between the expression of »general interest« and the
»service to the art«, the criticism is doubtlessly farthest from the art and most pernicious when it places itself into the service of an order or an idea which does not permit different art and different criticism in the name of some »higher<< interests.
The criticism is aware of its limitations, but, apparently, it does not have much choice. Fear of error and pettiness sometines forces it to silence its own doubts, while the critic who regards his own judgements with scepticism, deprives them in the eye of the public of the reliability and superiority necessary for those who search in the criticism for a sure and clear judgement. Faced with the criticism, and precisely because of its position as a judge, the artists feel suspicion, occasionally resistance, and most often - helplessness. To oppose an unfavourable or erro­neous critical judgement is considered misplaced and it is mostly unsuccessful. To ignore the criticism means to ignore exhibitions, awards, business success, etc., which is nearly impossible. To those artists who distinguish between judging {for which there were always enough »standards<<) and understanding (which always required more than the knowledge of these »Standards«) it remains to do their own job, aware that the misunderstandings that do appear are not the matter of individuals thinking they know more about artists work than the artists themselves, but a concequence of more complex circuninstances where the voice of the criticism is just one voice among the many.

Petar lgnjatovic
Art and criticism 1984.


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