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Six Thoughts on Lithuanian Art Criticism

by Alfonsas Andriuškevičius

First. We should differentiate between theoretical discourse on art, which approaches its subjects as finite and complete, and immediate art criticism, which guides around processes still in the stage of formation. In the first case we can speak of methods, in the second, we distinguish only types of criticism. Numerous fine examples of art criticism manifest no method. However, knowledge of methods usually reinforces criticism, which is weaker when diluted with journalism. However, it is the very concept of art and the type of criticism of choice that are key to art critics, but not methods or strict procedures.
Second. At least some of contemporary art criticism should rediscover its evaluative function. It is either unimportant or hidden in works of theoretical or historical approach (except for works written with a certain psychological, philosophical, etc. platform). But a critic is expected to evaluate separate phenomena of the processes he is covering. Most critics still are reluctant to give a negative appraisal.
Third. Evaluation needs criteria. It is critical that criteria be adequate of the rules chosen by the artist. Some of such criteria are more superficial and look for originality or freshness. Another group includes aspects like artistic quality and the depth of content. By content I mean the focus on existential questions. Today “depth” may include questioning the very nature of art (culture) and issues of identity. The work of art can also gain “depth” by capitalizing on different cultural texts and contexts. Aesthetic impact of a work, both formal and conceptual, is “artistic quality”. Contemporary art critics seldom apply this measure, obviously due to the lack of understanding of international art context. It might strike as an invitation to reinstall modernism and hierarchy. Yet what about this popular catchphrase “choose the best”?
Fourth. This is not discouragement from interpretation, which means generating meanings. It is probable that power to educe interpretations is a key factor determining the value of the work of art. Yet evaluation of these meanings and non-meanings might prove useful for somebody outside indoctrinated artistic circles. Art sometimes seeps through the boundaries of the world of art, where it also finds people, occasionally not best disposed toward art.
Fifth. Contemporary criticism tends to shun interpretative function, advocating instead an approach of “individual consumption of a work of art”. Still it is interpretation, as it is about generating meanings. Though many works of art physically do not differ from mundane objects, semantically they do. Thus by “individual consumption” we explicate the meanings that we read in a work of art.
Sixth. Contemporary criticism might as well to become an individual way of consuming art, a parasite on its body. But this does not preclude interpretation, e.g., generating meanings. Not perennial ones, yet the ones that are prompted by context. In a sense, this does not counter evaluation, without which art criticism runs a risk to become too boring.

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