Certainly, the transitional state of contemporary art criticism is the subject of much concern but little discussion, one that does not stop at the borders of visual art. The Internet has dropped the proverbial velvet rope, opening the way for a proliferation of opinions presented as “equals” regardless of academic qualification, experience, or expertise. When a critique can be as reductive as a star-review, how does the role of ‘critic as expert’ shift? What happens to art criticism when criticism becomes as easily digestible as a Flintstone vitamin? These are pressing implications to consider, but the question at hand is not “Can Gonzo save art criticism?” so much as can Gonzo open the way for a new form of engaging and critically substantial critique.
Where immersion, participation, and immediacy are Gonzo’s primary components, it throws more traditional notions of criticism on its head: how can the critic see a larger picture from close-up? How can she step back from immediacy? How can he understand the conflux of perspective when he is physically participating on one side?
Utilizing Gonzo as a vehicle for art criticism, one of validity and critical substance, requires both a reevaluation of the critic’s role and, in many cases, compromise on the heavy stylization of Gonzo writing. The art world, though perhaps decadent and depraved, is not the Kentucky Derby. Thompson’s ideal Gonzo does not allow adequate time for the consideration deserved by serious art work, whose theoretical and social implications often do not reveal themselves unless the critic can take a step back—and the critic very often needs to take that step.
But there is, conversely, something powerful to be said about authorial transparency when dealing with subjective media. Where there is perspective, there is subjectivity, and where there is subjectivity, there is a gap, a space for new ideas, contradictions, and knowledge to fit—and the gap is infinite.
There is a component of expertise that masks this space with the pretense of unalterable fact, established theory, history, and other forms of objective truth. Gonzo does not propose to fill the gaps but expose them, to pull back the curtain of all-knowing authority because there is, ultimately, no one right way to look at a work of art, no one right way to feel about it. Expertise can only substantiate personal affectations, not confirm them as truth. This is not meant to negate the notion of the expert, but rather, to challenge its authoritarian concept, to present knowledge as expansive and subject to change.
(The truth changes all the time.)
Gonzo art criticism must walk a fine line, must own its subjectivity without compromising the validity of its opinions, must be both present and omnipresent, must use its expertise to teach, not dictate, to inform, not prove. And perhaps, when done as Thompson envisioned it, by someone masterfully skilled, ballsy, with the eye of an artist, it will allow a new generation of critics, artists, and readers alike, more engaged and better equipped to make their own decisions and discuss them openly, to reach a deeper understanding of art as both a mechanism created by society and history, and something that alters it.
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This is part of “Radical Storytelling,” originally submitted to the SAIC Collections on 14 Dec 2013.