Stories are powerful. I think that’s why we tell them, and why we drink them up. All art tells a story, but it’s the best work, the most complex and beautiful, that keep us engaged, that say things we want to hear over and over again. While inherently personal, our individual experiences can still be inclusive. Done thoroughly, carefully, and honestly, we can get more out of art, and out of ourselves, through sharing personal narratives than we might gain from objective analysis alone.
As humans, we have developed these communicative tools not only to connect ourselves with others, but also to connect the others within each of us, to unify the thoughts and ideas we’ve scavenged from our relationships and experiences. It’s how we learn and grow, how we build individual identities. In the same way, we can build and expand on arts discourse, using a collection of memories, experiences, and stories that not only touch the larger cultural framework, but emphasize inclusivity, not just across gender, race and class, but religion, sexuality, political affiliation, age, and ability.
For all it gives us, technology keeps us insulated. It filters our newsfeeds. It tailors our search engines, reinforcing what we think we know. Pop culture, saturated with fantastical narratives made to seem real, quotidian, and easy to digest, fosters an illusion of reality where we cannot see ourselves. The less we’re able to relate these scripted experiences to our own, the more isolated we feel in the already existential loneliness of being human.
As we become less and less dependent upon each other, we are hungrier than ever to make connections. What we stand to gain from using honest and thoughtful experiences as a tool for critique are cross-applicable skill sets that fortify self-expression, while promoting empathy and receptivity toward others. With cuts to arts funding in public schools, particularly in poor and already marginalized communities, a form of engaging with art that embraces feelings and experiences (something everyone has, unlike a traditional arts education) as viable critical tools has the potential to make contemporary art, writing, and history more accessible and inclusive in terms of who can contribute to the discourse.
I believe art criticism can be a tool for social action. We can work toward a future where artistic practice and communal critique strengthen intrinsic values, combat self-involvement and blind consumerism, promote social engagement, encourage relationship building, and foster personal growth.
It is an incomplete practice, and that’s kind of the beauty of it—there’s so much room. It also means this form of criticism cannot, and should never, replace traditional arts writing. But neither should we remain uncritical of criticism; as the definition of art continues to grow and expand, so must we broaden our definitions of history and criticism. And as most of these examples have hopefully shown, we can and we have. New forms exist that capture meaning, context and significance with language that is observant and intellectually demanding, with ideas that are accessible, that parallel our relationship with art as it exists in the everyday, and as we exist within it.
So Reader, be rigorous, be demanding, but be vulnerable too. Be honest. Embrace intimacy. Go straight for the messiness of it. Art criticism is large enough for individuality; it can embrace the “person-ness” of an art experience which, harkening back to the Tarot, changes from read to read, from moment to moment, every day a new and different truth.
This is part of “Radical Storytelling,” originally submitted to the SAIC Collections on 14 Dec 2013.