Franklin Einspruch


The Critical Edge

for Vasari21, January 20, 2019 (read there)

[How do you get a critic to pay attention to your work?]

Before speaking to how to get a critic to pay attention to your work, let’s ponder whether and why. The days of the influential critic are over. They were the product of a much smaller art world, in a time before the periodicals were eviscerated. It was also a time when fine art was a common cultural touchstone. Williams art historian Michael J. Lewis dates the beginning of the end to 1990, when the American public, prompted by the hearings around the NEA Four, “drew the fatal conclusion that contemporary art had nothing to offer them. Fatal, because the moment the public disengages itself collectively from art, even to refrain from criticizing it, art becomes irrelevant.”

If you merely want to be written about, target the art reporters rather than the art critics. The former are more numerous, and they have more opportunities to write. (Obviously, the critics and the reporters are often the same people.) The feature writer’s main need is what we scriveners call an “angle.” Some poor sap has to convince his editor to let him turn your story into 800 words of copy. If you’re not sure what your story is, enlist the services of an arts marketer to help you form one. Without it, your press release—the next step—is sunk. A certain kind of person can make art with the press release in mind. Whether and to what degree that is appropriate is an exercise left to the reader. I’ll say, though, that as a critic, I can smell a lack of integrity like a Rottweiler can smell fear.

If your goal is not merely to be written about, but to have a genuine creative and intellectual exchange with someone whose judgment you respect, you need only approach the critic with the regard and good faith that you would like the critic to approach you. I do a fair number of studio visits, some of which I arrange, some of which the artists arrange. I often accept offers from artists to meet them at their shows, if they have one up. This goes better if the artist has some idea of where I’m coming from as a critic, but not too much of one, because my tastes are unpredictable and I may surprise you.

Also, your goal should not be to get me to review your current show or your current body of work, but to see it in preparation for your next one, or the one after. I may indeed write about the current one, but time and opportunity often run short. Rather, the idea is that we form some mutual knowledge and respect over a stretch of time, and then our work lives cross one day and I’m available to review your show or write your catalogue or curate you into an exhibition or whatever it is, and I can put something together because I have a sense of your trajectory.

You may not care to bother with any of this. If not, I wouldn’t blame you, and you should just keep making your art. I can’t promise to do anything for you, even if I try. But if I look at your art I will see it to the utter extent of my power to see anything.

Word count: 557

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