Learning to Write Art Criticism

Ever since I met with Physicalism, I’ve been curious about what its like to be an art critic. Physicalism is somewhat antagonistic towards art criticism, for its tendency towards “bullshit”, but it can’t all be bullshit, can it? What if it is? Can it be fixed?

I decided to try being an art critic first hand. Of course, I’ve got no formal training in the field. I don’t have an art degree of any sort. Although my Dad’s an art professor, and I grew up surrounded by art, artists, and talk about art, that hardly qualifies me as a competent critic. I have studied philosophy though. There’s a lot of crossover, I’m discovering, between the field of philosophy and that of art theory. I have a writing degree, so I should be able to write about anything, even art, right?

I put together a sample of my writing and submitted it so that I could be considered for the 23rd Annual Critics’ Residency Program at the Maryland Art Place. I figured it was a long shot, but what the hell. It seems like an interesting program. Here’s how they describe it.

Taking place throughout the course of a year, the program will include studio visits and writers’ workshops led by critic Vincent Katz and will culminate with an exhibition, a catalogue containing critical essays and images of selected artwork, and a public forum.

I wasn’t quite sure what to submit for a writing sample. It’s not like I’m an established art critic or anything. I haven’t even freelanced an art review for the newspaper (although, that’s an ulterior motive of mine). I thought about, maybe, including the editorial from the first issue if Infinity’s Kitchen. Then, I thought against it. Still, it’s a good read, if you haven’t read it already. I finally settled on it. I gave them an excerpt from the undergraduate thesis I wrote. The second chapter of the thesis, titled Aesthetics in a Hypertext Age had a good bit of content that passes for art criticism in it.

Then, I dug through a bunch of notes I took during college philosophy classes. I was looking for something else I could cannibalize for the writing sample. I ended up stumbling on an interesting question: “How do we make meaning of things?” I applied the question to a new essay, which ended up being too long to include in the writing sample. That essay is called Meaning and Experience. (At least, that’s the first part. There’s more to say.)

I’m happy to say that I’ve been accepted to that writing program. It starts next Saturday. I’m very excited. Until then, I’m burying my nose in a book titled The Basis of Criticism in the Arts.