On Criticism

Another recent post from Jörg Colberg on Conscientious that caught my eye was Being critical vs. being negative.

In it he mentions the “dearth of critical discussions of photography online” and that many people he is in touch with would like to see more, going on to make clear the distinction between being critical and being negative, and then suggesting that most people (and in particular I think he means most bloggers) are not critical because they fear it will be misunderstood as being negative, and that they feel this will be bad for their careers.

As someone who has been writing critically about photography on-line since 1999, my first thought was “what career?”  When I started writing for ‘About.com‘  I was expected to be critical. I was asked to write because I had ideas about photography and could express them, (although by the time we parted company in 2007 corporate policy had changed.) But now here on >Re:Photo and elsewhere I can do my own (but unpaid) thing.

Of course this isn’t the only blog which does feature critical writing about photography – and Colberg himself occasionally does his bit on Conscientious.

I don’t always write about every show I attend or web site I visit. Sometimes I don’t feel I have much to say, and if I feel the work is very bad it would be hard to write without seeming negative. Essentially I think the job of the critic is to provide some insight that will encourage or enrich photographers and the audience.  And, hopefully also to stimulate some kind of dialogue about the work. If I can’t think of anythi

And Colberg thinks critical discussion would be a positive thing. So I wanted to contribute to one by making a comment on his blog. I looked for the comment box on the page – and to my surprise there wasn’t one.

You can comment on >Re:PHOTO, although to prevent abuse you need to be a member (joining is free and instant) and logged in, and all comments are moderated before they appear on the site. There is a page – see list at top right – on how to make comments for anyone who can’t see how to do it.

I don’t get many comments here, but I do welcome them.

2 Responses to “On Criticism”

  1. David says:

    Hello, Peter.
    The difficulty with “criticism” and “critical” seems to me to be that they’re used in common speech as a synonyms for denigrate, quite differently in expressions like “mission-critical” and then in a limited technical sense by the art(y) world.
    We need another handy word that means “thoughtful, disinterested and informed comment”. By happy coincidence, “disinterested” is another word that has problems.
    Perhaps your extensive readership might like to come up with something. We’d all be grateful.


  2. Well, not just by the art world of course, across the whole of the arts and the humanities. And I think you probably cannot separate it from a peculiarly British (or if you are French, Anglo-Saxon) mistrust or disdain for the idea of the intellectual. So I’m not sure that changing to a new word would help.

    More we need to reclaim and celebrate the concept – so perhaps a “criticism is beautiful” campaign.


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