DIY Culture Industry: Signifying Practices, Social Networks and Other Instrumentalizations of Everyday Art

post-criticism, art criticism, art school critique

Post-criticism is a topic recently raised by such humanities scholars as Bruno Latour and Eve Sedgewick. What does this have to do with art departments, which are at best indirectly associated with the humanities? Some contact between contemporary art and the recent post-criticism debate comes through art historians like Hal Foster and David Joselit (both associated with the journal October, which is itself a kind of sloppy studio department shorthand for “criticality”). But art history and studio art departments are not synonymous, often they don’t even get along. Many artists pride themselves on being anti-academic and even anti-intellectual — which is very different from being post-critical. When artists complain that critique dominates today, I don’t imagine they mean art magazine criticism — as has been reported on for over 15 years now, the art world has learned to operate just fine despite the precipitous drop in the status of published criticism. And yet critique does still dominate in at least one respect; namely, there remains a dominant curricular model among studio departments that stresses one-on-one critiques with students, critique sessions in production courses and entire critique classes. Art department critiques used to be beholden to Critical Theory but that ended a long time ago. And yet it’s been hard for art departments to figure out how to fill the classroom hours without talk of some kind, since school in general is so much about the verbal transmission of knowledge. This no doubt has some general relationship to the post-critical debate (why art students used to, but no longer, borrow heavily from humanities programs like Comp Lit). But the problem is different today; university art programs based in the humanities or fine arts schools are threatened not by the humanities departments but by the more client-oriented professional schools and their growing offerings of design and creative leadership and entrepreneurialism classes, in which it’s much easier to concretely measure (through the use of market criteria and quantifying metrics) the impact and value of production. When artists complain about the continuing oppressiveness of critique, perhaps what they’re really calling for is a much needed discussion of what we’re doing to fill all that crit time in the art department, and how we might rehabilitate the meaningfulness of art-class discussion short of abandoning the crit-based curricular model all together, since, for one thing, crits are what distinguish humanities-based art classes from the design and entrepreneurialism classes taught by the professional schools.


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