Industrial Disease [1]

by Alina Şerban

Some ideas about the situation of art criticism discourse today. Reviews, funny texts about art experience, direct intro on some contemporary theories. Few attitudes. What is wrong with art criticism today? Why is the art criticism so objective?

I will start abruptly with the invocation of Thomas Kuhn’s analysis from his book “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions,” taking the risk that the reader may not find pleasure in this schematic structure. Or maybe it’s the subject's fault. Who is still interested to see what is happening with the discourse of art criticism today? It may seem that this discourse has been sacrificed for the sake of the curatorial discourse. The curator is now taking the place of the critic. Curator becomes the influent position in the art practices, producing on the one hand a total confusion of the positions critic/curator, and on the other hand determining a modification of the critic's condition. He/she seems to be in between. The discourse of criticism is not about the “valued” or about the permanent processes of exclusion and closure which the art medium suffers. It is more about the facts, about a certain voluntarism and cultural reduction and about consuming culture. The force of Kulturkritik has turned upside down and inside out. The commodities of society, the authority of the global trend minimize the need for a certain attitude discourse or the possibility to separate the position and role of different actors in the art field. The changes noticed within the contemporary art discourse are the result of the rethinking of the historical positions and of artistic consciousness. The impact of the media strategies, of curatorial politics which determine the re-mapping of the art circle influences the process of critical discourse, modifies the artistic positions and annihilates the difference between perception and representation, between the original and its copy.

Of course, anybody can ask what would be the motive for re-reading Kuhn's historical reference in the context of contemporary art or of visual studies, or what would be the necessary link with art criticism. And this can be a justified question. But another important question which must be raised is what are the strategic practices of criticism today? And this is a difficult one. Taking into consideration what is produced in this frame, one might say that the discipline itself must reconsider its position.

The reference to the concept of “scientific revolution” is here introduced in its general meaning, invoking it in my attempt to read the changes which appear inside the art circle. Starting from Kuhn's argumentation, the changes and the research inside a scientific circle could not have been directed by theories and methodological rules, but by the experiences shared by those who are part of the circle. These experiences can be seen as paradigms. If the paradigms offer the essence of the circle, the art criticism discourse is one such paradigm. And it is part of our common experience inside the field. Historically, the art criticism discourse has affected not only our knowledge, but also the understanding of art itself. It can produce shock, can dynamite a context and determine another historical cycle.

What will be the sense in this context to talk about the opportunity of the presence of the critical discourse? What will be the sense to talk about strategies of discourse when criticism seems to arrive to an end? While the cultural politics are becoming an important piece in the definition of the status of art and in the determination of the territory map, the interest for the discourse of the critic is disappearing. The critics' texts evolve around the terms: strategy, politics, and tactics. Sometimes these texts present theatrical situations. They are faking the struggle to be specific about the circle's reality. The new criticism seems to bring us in a new ideological situation where subjectivity, auctorial positions are eliminated constantly for the sake of objectivity. The contemporary diseases bomb the infinite space of language. The old criticism has been lost. The discourse convention of the new one inhibits the possibility to recognize that criticism is more powerful in its address than in its conceptual form. What shall we do? The contradictions attributed to this new meaning and role of criticism today need to be redistributed. The vagueness of the formulation must be erased. Could it be that criticism can be a label of the identity of the art space and in this sense, it may call for a deeper change?


[1] The title is an allusion to a song by Dire Straits from 1982.