Franklin Einspruch


What Turns Critics On (and Off)

for Vasari21, January 22, 2020 (read there)

[As a critic, what are your biases and how do you deal with them?]

I prefer the word “prejudice” to “bias” because the former describes the problem literally, judging something in advance of seeing it. Such judgments are not necessarily wrong, but they have the distinct shortcoming of being unconfirmed by actual looking. A lot of looking at art will inevitably bring you to the day that your judgment conflicts with your prejudgment. How a critic responds to that conflict is the mark of his worth. A good critic will allow his taste to surprise him, and report on that honestly. A bad critic will talk himself out of his honest response and write according to how he thinks he should have responded. There are critics, even prominent ones, who have spent so much time talking themselves out of their real responses that they have ruined their taste. That’s granting that they had some to begin with.

Prejudices are preferences run amok. Preferences themselves are inevitable and natural. I’ve thought a lot about painting, and I’ve tried to make a lot of different kinds of painting, which is not something I can say about, say, video art. Consequently, I’m better on painting than video art. If it falls to me to write about video I’m careful to make sure that I’m not missing anything basic and I try to err on the side of generosity. I’m indifferent to the indigenous art of North America, which I can’t explain because the indigenous art of South America is fascinating, so I just don’t write about it–obviously I’m missing something. Then there’s conceptual art, which we’re allowed to dislike categorically because it is a categorical exercise to begin with, making a given thing into art by defining it as such and presenting it as such. But it’s important not to pan work you dislike categorically because it usually makes for boring copy. Writing about it sometimes means giving the devil his due.

At any rate, the goal is to pass judgment on the art. This is becoming increasingly impossible, largely due to diminishing opportunities to write about anything. But also, the idea that everything is political, which is wrong, has nevertheless been gaining ground in the arts for a long time. This would be an unfortunate development anyway, but the arts are already a political monoculture, and it results in art judgments disappearing into a background haze of foregone political conclusions.

Word count: 408

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