Michael Snape – ‘Art Criticism: The Silenced Witness’

In News May 20, 2023

Drawing by Michael Snape, 2023

Renowned Sydney sculptor Michael Snape has shared his insights and reflections on the changing nature of art criticism throughout recent decades, in the article ‘Art Criticism: The Silenced Witness’ published on his blog. 

“Art criticism has changed over the last forty years. Previously, art criticism appeared regularly in several newspapers and magazines. The critic was esteemed and if not feared, then respected. They spoke with not only knowledge and experience, but also with a clarity and sharpness the ordinary art viewer lacked. They occupied the anteroom just outside the main theatre of art. They had a privileged view. Since that time art criticism has been replaced by art writing which is mainly promotional.” says Snape

Stuart Purves, National Director of Australian Galleries reflected upon reading Snape’s article, that in years past, there would be several art critics who would visit and review exhibitions, each offering their own personal response and insights into the artworks shown, not constrained by a particular publication or agenda. 

 Snape continues,
“The role of the critic has changed over my lifetime.
The critic was mostly read in the newspaper.
The critic was fearsomely independent and unreachable.
One did not compromise the independence of the critic by having a personal relationship with them.
The artist’s determination about the work was irrelevant.

This independence of the critic changed with post-modernism and conceptual art. This new work had no meaning until it was explained by the artist. When art ceased to be free-standing, both metaphorically and physically, the critic was obsolete. The critic now became the means of promotion, for advertising the work.

The critic became just a writer and lost the power associated with the word ‘critic’.
With relativism all the edges were now blurry. Any judgement only exposed prejudice. The critic now spoke only of the ‘perspective’ from which they looked at a work. A critic’s work in a relativist world was not now broad but only narrow.

We see in the dailies now therefore, art writing, as opposed to art criticism. We see art writing on the internet, which also is not ‘criticism’. Criticism requires traction and the internet is slippery. Writing about art is a trade that provides income. The critic no longer occupies the anteroom.

The art critic now is a function only of the publisher’s need. Because they surrendered the power of judgement, that power has been removed.”

Read the full article by Michael Snape here