Design Observer

About
Books
Job Board
Newsletters
Archive
Contact



Observatory

About
Resources
Submissions
Contact


Featured Writers

Michael Bierut
William Drenttel
John Foster
Jessica Helfand
Alexandra Lange
Mark Lamster
Paul Polak
Rick Poynor
John Thackara
Rob Walker


Departments

Advertisement
Audio
Books
Collections
Dear Bonnie
Dialogues
Essays
Events
Foster Column
From Our Archive
Gallery
Interviews
Miscellaneous
New Ideas
Opinions
Partner News
Photos
Poetry
Primary Sources
Projects
Report
Reviews
Slideshows
The Academy
Today Column
Unusual Suspects
Video


Topics

Advertising
Architecture
Art
Books
Branding
Business
Cities / Places
Community
Craft
Culture
Design History
Design Practice
Development
Disaster Relief
Ecology
Economy
Education
Energy
Environment
Fashion
Film / Video
Food/Agriculture
Geography
Global / Local
Graphic Design
Health / Safety
History
Housing
Ideas
Illustration
India
Industry
Info Design
Infrastructure
Interaction Design
Internet / Blogs
Journalism
Landscape
Literature
Magazines
Media
Museums
Music
Nature
Obituary
Other
Peace
Philanthropy
Photography
Planning
Poetry
Politics / Policy
Popular Culture
Poverty
Preservation
Product Design
Public / Private
Public Art
Religion
Reputations
Science
Shelter
Social Enterprise
Sports
Sustainability
Technology
Theory/Criticism
Transportation
TV / Radio
Typography
Urbanism
Water


Comments (6) Posted 04.23.04 | PERMALINK | PRINT

Rick Poynor

Critics and Their Purpose


Pulling a 1960s art magazine from the shelf this week, I opened it at random to find a long list of thoughts about art criticism, many of which also apply to design. Lists are always fascinating and this one makes a good appendix to the two recent threads about design writing and theory.

The document was formulated in 1966 by students at the Royal College of Art, London and it was published in Studio International in May 1967 under the title “The Critic and His Purpose”. The students were asked to define the qualities they expected of a critic, the considerations that should govern critical judgements, and the role of criticism today. None of the students’ names are given, but this only adds to the list’s appeal and usefulness as a distillation of collective wisdom, rather than as the view of a single, perhaps biased, author. Similar propositions were combined into a single statement, and contradictory views were allowed to stand. As point 31 says, “Of two carefully considered but contrary opinions both may be right.”


The first part of the 62-point list deals with “Critical Method”. The other two parts, not given here, cover “Criticism and the Historical Process” and “Criticism in the Contemporary Situation”.

Critical Method

1.      The critic should be a master of words – half writer, half philosopher, preferably an artist as well.

2.      Some of the skills of the critic are intuitive, some can be learned. Judgement improves with exercise and experience.

3.      A simple “like” or “dislike” reaction is not criticism. Criticism requires knowledge.

4.      Criticism can be (a) historical: comparing movements and groups, describing styles, analysing techniques or (b) philosophical and evaluative or (c) technical self-criticism by an artist.

5.      It is the duty of the critic to be aware of the stylistic development of art up to the present.

6.      The artist’s own explanations of his work are helpful in interpreting it.

7.      The critic has responsibility (a) towards the artist and (b) towards the public.

8.      The content and level of criticism is determined by the audience addressed.

9.      The critic should not let the reputation of an artist influence his views.

10.      Criticism must distinguish between style for style’s sake and genuine style.

11.      Criticism cannot be objective, but should aim to be.

12.      Criticism should be persuasive, not dogmatic.

13.      The critic should discipline his prejudices and remember that he is subject to error.

14.      The critic should remember that all art is based on experience, however remotely.

15.      Criticism distinguishes between the conscious and the unconscious intentions of the artist.

16.      Criticism must see beyond superficial décor to spiritual purpose and order.

17.      The critic should understand the limitations of the medium and have a sense of the interplay of the medium with the subject, but he should not get lost in the discussion of techniques. Technical criticism “murders to dissect”.

18.      Criticism should proceed from direct contact with the object.

19.      The critic must react in order to evaluate. Everyone reacts, but the critic observes his reactions and expresses them.

20.      The critic must allow for the fact that his reaction will be biased by the context in which he experiences the work.

21.      Immediate reaction is dependent on nervous energy and vitality. After that sensibility must take over. Long acquaintance with a work is therefore essential. The work itself may have been long in maturing.

22.      The critic must get outside himself to criticise fully. He must abandon built-in expectations and have a sense of possibilities.

23.      Criticism has this in common with drawing or painting – that one statement leads to another and so an idea is built up.

24.      Criticism is concerned with the proportions of the constituent elements in a work of art, a study of the interrelationship of parts.

25.      Criticism begins with a description of the impact of a work of art and proceeds to consider its intentions and whether they have been realized.

26.      The act of describing will reveal the critic’s own biases. The description of phenomena plus the description of feelings equals the definition of values.

27.      The critic should consider the relation of a given work to the rest of the artist’s oeuvre.

28.      The search for influences quickly degenerates into meaningless name-dropping.

29.      An interpretation of a work can still be valid even if it does not correspond with the artist’s intentions.

30.      The critic should deduce an artist’s values from his acts of selection.

31.      Of two carefully considered but contrary opinions both may be right.

32.      His moral conscience is the only check on the critic’s freedom.
|
Share This Story

Comments (6)   |   JUMP TO MOST RECENT COMMENT >>

Thanks Rick. Can't resist adding this quote, which was sent to me years ago:

"The artist is a cut above the critic, for the artist is writing something which will move the critic. The critic is writing something which will move everybody but the artist." - William Faulkner (1958).

Also, don't forget the best film ever produced on the subject of criticism:
"The Critic" by Melvin Kaminsky (aka Mel Brooks) (1963). I'm not sure how to get hold of it, but copies have been known to surface.
steve heller
04.23.04 at 12:54

Or Al Jean and Mike Reiss' The Critic: It stinks! (we should all strive for such honesty).

Seriously though, this is an enlightning list. It puts many things in perspective. Especially when a critic is dismissed for his opinion being solely his own - and a subjective one at that. Artists (or whomever is being criticized) should consider this list too before throwing a tantrum.

Thanks for putting this together for us Rick. (Was just having a related conversation with Kenneth F., so this comes timely).
Armin
04.23.04 at 02:10

This is a great resource and an interesting platform for exploring the parameters of design criticism. Most art criticism hinges on interpreting a largely esoteric activity that still operates from an "avant-garde" stance, and a lot of those assumptions seem to drive these comments.



matt f
04.23.04 at 05:01

Whoops: "The search for influences quickly degenerates into meaningless name-dropping."

I've been guilty of this. Thanks for the list Rick.
Jarrett
04.26.04 at 03:06

What percentage of a writers' work falls into the category of the blurb -the review in 300 words or less? There's a link at the word 'words' in the previous sentence, for those of you who may be colorblind.
Forgive me for being 'off subject' but it seems to me a critic could simply pen a few words to promote; to change the pace of their daily work. This list, for which I'm thankful, is -in my opinion, an indication of that. And that this site is 'educational'.
Shahla
04.27.04 at 03:12

Neat post, thanks. I sometimes enjoy reading criticism as literature -- sometimes I'm just more in the mood for a critical essay, or even some reviews, than I am for a story, a visual or musical event. So I was tickled once when I interviewed the Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami. I asked him the usual dumb question about how he took criticism and reviews, and he gave an interesting answer. He said (roughly), "Well, critics are writing a kind of literature, just as I am. And I sometimes enjoy what they do. The difference between what I do and what they do is that I'm putting my thing together from life, and they're putting their thing together from the art they encounter." He he said this without malice or any implicit dig. His attitude seemed to be: Hey, I'm doing what I do, they're doing what they do, and maybe some of it's interesting or useful or fun, and if so, cheers to that.
Michael Blowhard
04.28.04 at 01:35


Design Observer encourages comments to be short and to the point; as a general rule, they should not run longer than the original post. Comments should show a courteous regard for the presence of other voices in the discussion. We reserve the right to edit or delete comments that do not adhere to this standard.
Read Complete Comments Policy >>


Name             

Email address 




Please type the text shown in the graphic.


|
Share This Story



ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rick Poynor is a writer, critic, lecturer and curator, specialising in design, media, photography and visual culture. He founded Eye, co-founded Design Observer, and contributes columns to Eye and Print. His latest book is Uncanny: Surrealism and Graphic Design.
More Bio >>

DESIGN OBSERVER JOBS









BOOKS BY Rick Poynor

Uncanny: Surrealism and Graphic Design
MG Publications, 2010

Typographica
Laurence King, 2001

Obey the Giant: Life in the Image World
Birkhäuser Architecture, 2007

No More Rules: Graphic Design and Postmodernism
Yale University Press, 2003

Looking Closer 3
Allworth Press, 1999

More books by contributors >>

RELATED POSTS


Mr. Vignelli's Map
Vignelli Celebration: Massimo Vignelli's 1972 New York City subway map is a beautiful example of information design that was ultimately rejected by its users.

Reflections on The Ephemeral World, Part One: Ink
An elegy to the makeready — those sheets of paper, re-fed into a press to get the ink balances up to speed, leaving a series of often random, palimpsest-like, multiple impressions on a single surface — in the digital age.

Cranbrook Commencement Address
"I come to you, like all commencement speakers, as an emissary from the future." The commencement address delivered by Julie Lasky at the Cranbrook Academy of Art on May 9, 2008.

Greening the Grocery Store
It turns out that the "recycling symbol" at the bottom of my yogurt container had nothing to do with its recyclability. So why was it there? My curiosity led to findings around which I built a design class.

O.H.W. Hadank
Paul Rand held Hadank in the highest esteem because he practiced modernist formal principles even though he did not follow its dogma or style. And most important, as Rand said “Hadank was then and always an original. A profile of O.H.W. Hadank by Steven Heller...