art 2003/1

Valmantas Gutauskas. Atspindžiai. 2002, laminuotas stiklas, 315 x 90 x 90

On Contemporary Art Criticism and the Art of Criticism

by Egidijus Aleksandravičius

Criticism, being an essential feature of intellectual activity, enables cultural communication within a community. The quality of criticism, that is, the criteria it applies, is a yardstick for a certain community’s cultural maturity. More primitive conditions generate primitive symbolical structures of criticism.
Liberal democracy and market economy open numerous opportunities for criticism. Largely uncultivated in Soviet times, political criticism is taking the lead and pushing aside the critical thought on theatre, arts, and music.
Simultaneously culture and art criticism is literally in a rut. Media coverage of literary and artistic events and trends reflects mercantile market tendencies and servile interests of archaic culture administration. Sincere interest in arts is missing. Such a role of criticism is determined by the duplicity of values typical of a post-Soviet country where liberal democratic ideals coexist with the relics of socialist mentality and the bureaucratic state patronage of culture. Though artists, musicians or writers, each have a different relationship with the government, they all want to please the popular tastes and the bureaucrats in charge of scholarships and different funds. This leads to a competition so cruel that it leaves everybody totally indifferent to the work and achievements of others. It is very dangerous to criticism.
Cultural criticism of a modern society is impossible without symbolical and more or less universally important centers of criticism. In Lithuania, it would be difficult to find any of these besides “editorial clans” of different publications.
The sluggishness and shallowness of Lithuanian art criticism is determined by the lack of cultural communication with the wider public. Competent art critics and historians seem to be there, yet they fail to launch a more influential art scene. One of the reasons is extreme specialization inherited from Soviet times, the guild-mentality, and the overall separation of culture from its user.
Referring to the sluggishness of Lithuanian contemporary criticism, I have in mind coverage of current events in art in periodicals and TV. Art reviewers seem to be failing in fulfilling their mission of informing a reader if things they are covering are worth of his attention.
Music or art critic functions as his guild’s “press spokesman”, while popular periodicals provide the public what they expect, a blend of the popular and scandal. The biggest problem with critics is not their lack of professionalism, but the lack of independence. Another serious problem is a certain cult of unquestionable authorities in arts and culture in general.
During the years of independence art criticism seems to have remained more independent from public funds and less involved in lobbying. This provides for more variety in art criticism, attempts to analyze and interpret works of art are also obvious. This leads to conclusion that the true domain of intellectual criticism should be situated far away from the ministries and their funds.