The State of Contemporary Art Criticism

Founder of LINE Magazine, Rachael Cloughton ( began the discussion with a consideration of the democratic forms of criticism and expressed opinion, such as blogging and twitter, as opposed to more established hierarchical platforms such as journals. She stated that she founded LINE magazine with an open policy for contributions from writers, not based on academic credentials, but their desire to write and be part of a critical forum. However, today Cloughton wants to think about possible draw backs to this anti-elitist shift and speak with Leeds based groups working in these areas about their thoughts.

The Editor of Leeds student paper ( states their policy as one of complete openness, providing access for individuals who want to get into journalism. There are writer’s guidelines, but accessibility is fundamental to their position and their audience.

Black Dogs Art Collective ( has produced self published zines and almanacs that explore both formal writing grounded within academia and also texts reactive of the moment’s opinions and ideas. Through regular publishing previous comments can be contested, there is the potential to take things back and revise positions. Black Dogs are thinking through and exploring their position at the moment.

Millpond ( is an online critical forum that positions itself as 'unashamedly Leeds Centric'. It was established in September 2010 with a desire to promote discussion in Leeds. Confronted by the problematic perception that you have to have authority to be a critic, but stated that they have more recently been considering criticism as opinions, which are all equally valid.

Millpond reviews art exhibitions and events and wish to prioritize the promotion of discourse around these through their ‘comments’ section. They are currently questioning how to allow this to work more effectively through the style of writing.

Told to reconsider the authoritative layout of their website and suggestions made about beginning to build the conversations and responses consciously themselves. Other ideas - have a reflective process on writing by adding to reviews over time.

Millpond hold an interesting position with regards to the style and presentation of their online critical platform, aligning themselves with produced formal qualities in some respects, but having the option, through being online to be more unrestrained, democratic and responsive.

A difficulty with any online writing is combating the rapid engagement with the medium, the opportunity to click away onto many other things at any one time. Are online forums too accessible? Do not challenge their readers to a sustained reading like a physical art journal.

Provocative writing potentially makes people stay? Sensationalism – counter productive?

Maybe this is a contributing factor to the firm position that published journals hold, in that it is something more concrete, something physical and with a monetary value.

The Juice magazine ( positions itself as looking forward at things that are going to happen as opposed to reviewing.

It was asserted that critical platforms such as Millpond, which are situated within smaller communities where people know each more informally as well as through their art practices, have a responsibility to be objective in their writing.

Thinking through this idea of responsibility with regards to writing about the arts in Leeds and more specifically the grassroots activity, the conclusion is that there is a responsibility to acknowledge this precarious existence and understand that what is written may be one of few pieces of writing that come to represent this persons/groups activity.

Thinking through how art works can be developed or destroyed through legacy and documentation.

But that for millpond it’s important to endeavor to develop this discourse and learn through doing.

Considering artist profiles and interviews, it is proposed that when your platform becomes more established you can actively promote artists who you are interested in or deem to be worthy of a spotlight for whatever reason.

Integral to engaging with an art scene is creating the cultural experience you wish to be part of. The nature and scale of the Leeds community, means that a critical platform could resonate and has the potential to do this.

Confronting reasons why some people chose to leave and some people chose to engage with the art scene in Leeds.

-Leeds could possibly benefit from more cohesion and cross over between areas of artistic practice.

Discussion then moved onto the reception of criticism; by audiences and artists. The point was asserted that criticism could only be productive if people are receptive to it.

Why has the word criticism grown to represent something negative rather than something constructive? Is it to do with language? Taught relationships to criticism need to be established. The art school is responsible for this, arguably.

When you write something about someone’s work it is with considerations, so a bad review is generally penned for the right reasons.

Millpond stated that they felt the periodicals such as Art Monthly often have pieces of writing that sound very clever but don’t actually make much of a point. That they can be verbose with long introductions to one point.

This is possibly a tactic to find their way around not actually being that critical.

Whatever forms your critical platform takes, it is important to be in a process of re-evaluation and reflection of values and intentions; integral to this process of learning – through - doing.

Line magazine believes that art criticism should reflect the artistic zeitgeist it is within and maintains a desire to explore criticism in a more experimental way, dealing with different literary modes of address that embrace of the collapse of critical distance.

Black dogs’ proposal of an exhibition which critiques itself, the work disappearing and the criticism existing as opinion and perception, possibly dealing with this notion of collapse.

When is criticism artistic practice? We are definitely witnessing a change and a blur in these demarcations.

Does the loss of criticism’s autonomy place it in crisis?

The fragmentation of popular opinion speaks more independently about what ‘the people’ like as opposed to receiving these value judgments from authoritative channels. If people only ever follow what they like, how can we challenge ourselves to see beyond this. How can we attain the shock of the new?

Shock of the ‘new’ is a fallacy – canonical formation of the past where the critic has reigned supreme is completely stifled -white, middle class, Westerners. Now we have a new anti-elitist domain that can incorporate the mult-cultural state of contemporary art and instigate real innovation and change.

It is asserted that there is a case for this situation existing in other fields, but not in contemporary art criticism at present, possibly due to contemporary art in its nature not being that popular or so visible.

Line agrees that the situation can be extended to other subjects within the arts but maintains that it is prevalent within contemporary art. Citing the decline in print media and the increasingly invisibility of criticism, paradoxically as a consequence of its proliferation. James Elkins: ‘it’s dying but it’s everywhere.’

However, the cacophony of criticism that now exists in multifarious forms across a diverse, lively audience makes it difficult to perceive as a crisis.