Saturday, January 08, 2005

Critical Alignment

One fact that has been quite evident to me for many years (at least from anecdotal evidence), is that fact that in almost all genres of the arts, more often than not, popularity tends to have an equally inverse relationship with formal critical acclaim.

If you are an extraordinarily popular visual artist with the masses, such as Jack Vettriano is in Great Britain, then usually you are either ignored or maligned by the critical world. In Vettriano's case it has actually worked to his advantage, making him even more popular, and he currently has the record for the highest price for a Scottish painting ever to be sold at auction.

I guess our equivalent here would be Norman Rockwell, although his "re-discovery" in the last few years has somewhat surprised me. But for most of my life, Rockwell has been tremendously popular with the American public, but snobbed and disdained by the critical mafia.

But when art critics do focus positively on someone, as they did for a while on John Currin, it appears to me that they tend to cluster in a communal group think about an artist. Conversely, when a "reversal" or negativity about an artist begins to surface (such as for John Currin now), it certainly appears, at least from the ten thousand foot level, to be a "group U-turn" and we all begin to savage the new victim.

I could be wrong, and it is clearly an observation not cast in concrete nor backed up by scientific and numerical facts, but it is how it appears to me.

But I also recall that in Peter Schjeldahl's (art critic for The New Yorker) 2004 lecture at George Washington University's Lisner Auditorium as part of that year's Clarice Smith Distinguished Lectures in American Art, and according to Ionarts:

"One of Schjeldahl's major points on the topic he chose ('What Art Is For Now') was that the snob appeal of art is one of the 'underestimated engines of culture,' that for now he has 'no desire to swell the size of the tent' of those who love art. In his view, there is no reason to bring art to the masses. Those who want it will find it, and 'if somebody doesn't want art, bully for them.' However, as Schjeldahl also noted, the audience for art worldwide may be larger now than it ever has been, and the art market is a booming business. This may help explain the gulf that can be observed between major art critics and the art-going public, in the case of the J. Seward Johnson sculptures at the Corcoran, for example."
And now David Sterritt, who is the film critic for The Christian Science Monitor, is concerned because so many of his choices for the best films, year after year, match so closely with his fellow movie critics, but often are never aligned with the public's choices. He writes:
"Don't get me wrong. The last thing we critics should do is try to echo the taste of some hypothetical 'average moviegoer' or twist our 10-best lists to mirror the box office. What concerns me is that there's so much agreement among reviewers, whose goals ought to include challenging one another's tastes, habits, and assumptions."
Read his article here.