“I felt like a farm boy with cow pies in my pockets...” (Peter Schjeldahl)

ART CRITICISM, the good stuff, cannot be taught. An orphan from the first word, a hobo until the last, art criticism is something you adopt rather than learn. It's method is not transferable through explication from master to student: the lessons of Jacques Rancière's Ignorant Schoolmaster apply here. 

In fact, the art critics that I read and aspire to are not masters of anything. They cannot afford to be specialists. They are Jacks and Jills of all trades: disordered tool boxes in their improvisational method; colourful toy rooms when it comes to there playful referencing. All in all they are sophisticates of mediocrity, verbally sizzling now and then when the art they awkwardly confront comes close to their low expectations relative to their 'all for show' towering egos.

The thing is, Paper Visual Art Journal's (PVA) “Regional Art Writing Programme 2015” got me thinking that, even though the art criticism I rate cannot be taught, maybe, just maybe, such would-be art critics can be nudged into existence. Oblige me while I dig a little deeper into something that perhaps wasn't meant in such a deep-seated way.

In PVA's programme statement there is something about how the word “regional” spoons “art criticism” – it's such an odd juxtaposition. Does regional art criticism mean 'not Dublin!'? Are PVA talking about sewing the seeds for a provincial corn-fed art criticism that stays put in the soil it was first planted – virgin soil that has not been fertilised by artworld pulp? Or, are PVA suggesting retaining the values, beliefs and muck savage of the aspiring regional art critic, far far away from Dublin's uniform art intelligentsia? Any of these aims could inspire a critical harvest, especially the muck savage aspect?

I'll tell you why.

Art criticism is a casual acquaintance of urbanity. The would-be art critic is just a hop, skip and jump from art college teat to teething art institution. She has suckled on e-flux, cut his teeth on Artforum, all that is left is to copy and paste. Homogenising done.

I think we are all tired of the same old hand-me-down Ring-Around the Rosie art discourse. Fed up of communicating in wink and wank entendres that always come in threes.

The remedy? Perhaps dialect? Dialect is arguably a symptom of reproducing the poor, but a verbally rich dialect is also something that can be harnessed for the good in art criticism. I can't imagine reading Dave Hickey with the same joy without the pronounced West Texas accent in his prose which enhances his natural Las Vegas trailer-trash jouissance

Dialect can also be style. When eulogising the late Robert Hughes, the best prose stylists of the profession, Christian Viveros-Fauné stated: “Few things count so much for a critic as style – it binds readers together with writers like epoxy.”

PVA should be commended if their aim is to till the regional soil for critical stylists, but they are mistaken if they are setting-up-shop in the sticks to teach method.

Further, how do you till the regional soil for existing art critics if your only place of operations is the regional art centre, the single institutional entity that hosts the PVA art criticism workshops the length and breadth of the country? Your select sample group of institutionally-sheltered critical initiates becomes a case of reproducing the beige beast.

‘Beige beast’ in the sense that for some time now art institutions in general have been caught in a regurgitative mirror-phase with regard to art discourse: the topics of ‘the institution’, ‘education’, ‘curation’ and ‘public sphere’ delivered with the same razzmatazz as an Oxfam board meeting. 

Conversely, I quite like the idea of fugitive art critics being unearthed in local community halls. Take for instance the local water charge protest meetings held in badly heated and lit community halls around the country; sweaty condensation on the windowpanes the sign of brickbats and spittle being flung from mouth to ear. 

I will leave the penultimate words to actor Tommy Lee Jones who, when on the hunt for a Fugitive of his own, recites in his full Texan mother-tongue: “What I want from each and every one of you is a hard-target search of every gas station, residence, warehouse, farmhouse, henhouse, outhouse and doghouse in that area.” 

If you are hiding out in any of the above and have an inkling that being an art critic is for you, check out the remaining PVA workshop dates below at an art centre near you.  James Merrigan


Centre for Contemporary Art (CCA) Derry-Londonderry
Workshop #1 Saturday, 7 February, 10 am – 5 pm
Workshop #2 Saturday, 7 March, 10 am – 5 pm

Galway Arts Centre
Workshop #1 Saturday, 14 February, 10 am – 5 pm

Workshop #2 Saturday, 14 March, 10 am – 5 pm

Workshop #1 Saturday, 21 February, 10 am – 5 pm
Workshop #2 Saturday, 28 March, 10 am – 5 pm

Further workshops will take place in autumn 2015 in Drogheda and Wexford.

For further information please contact:
Nathan O’Donnell | Marysia Wieckiewicz-Carroll
t: 086 6622671
e: papervisualart@gmail.com


Towards a Regional Art Criticism:

Thoughts on PVA’s Regional Art Criticism Programme

From Left: Brian Fay, James Merrigan, & Katy Moran

TOMMY LEE JONES, The Fugitive (1993)


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