Monday, September 20, 2010

Why Artists Shouldn't Write 'Reviews'

Ed Young’s recent 'review' of Zander Blom’ s latest exhibition, PAINTINGS. DRAWINGS. PHOTOS at Michael Stevenson, which appeared on the Mahala website is a prime example of why artists should not review their contemporaries work. Not that I would classify Young’s perfunctory musings as a ‘review’ – he never actually engages with the art. God forbid that he does; he would risk actually discovering that it has some kind of intellectual substance that would force him to write more than ironic sentences engineered to demonstrate how amusing he is – how detached he is from the art and maybe art in general. Young is so post-postmodern.

This brand of writing is not exactly out of keeping with the Mahala approach, where the writers are often concerned with being quirky, amusing and ironic. Thus form takes precedence over content. I suppose this style is engineered to appeal to the youth, who are more impressed with amusing turns of phrase than whether the phrase is illuminating in any way. This is very egocentric writing; it’s all about turning attention on the skills and persona of the writer than the subject-matter at hand. Hence Young's article/commentry is really about Young.

Very often writers fall back on this position as a way of avoiding engaging with their subject-matter. In the realm of arts writing it is often employed to mask their inability to grasp the work at hand.  Because this kind of writing is entertaining it has its place. As a writer I do value this kind of showmanship, have been known to engage in it frequently myself and thus do actually enjoy perusing the Mahala website and admire the product that Andy Davis has crafted.Sometimes this approach to writing works and at other times it feels terribly awkward and self conscious.

It can also be pretty frustrating when you actually want to find out something substantial about the work/subject that is being written about. Such as Blom’s exhibition. I haven’t seen it and probably won’t visit Cape Town before it closes. I cannot, however, vicariously enjoy Blom’s work through Young’s writing. Young is so dismissive of Blom’s art that you can’t help but feel that professional jealousy is at work. As Young expresses, clearly all the boys in Cape Town are in a tizz that Blom got the call from Michael and they didn’t.  Young wryly observes this fact, but the effort that he goes to, to demonstrate how vacuous Blom’s art is, implies that Young believes that the attention  Blom’s work has received is thoroughly misplaced. Young has every right to feel that way; but I do wish he made a substantial argument to back up his opinion.