Another speaker added to the 2014 THATCamp CAA roster: Charlotte Frost. Frost is Visiting Assistant Professor of contemporary/digital art histories and digital literacies at City University of Hong Kong. Previously she has held post-doctoral fellowships at the Center for 21st Century Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (2011-12) and HUMlab Digital Humanities centre in Sweden (2010). In her post, she asks for discussion around the topic Would Would the Ultimate Art History Course Look Like?
Little did art historian Heinrich Wölfflin (1864-1945) know when he established the use of dual slide projectors to compare and contrast different artworks, he was setting a disciplinary standard that would last over a hundred years. Even though we are increasingly overwhelmed with access to digital images and new forms and methods of learning, art history remains a largely book-based, solitary, technophobic and risk averse discipline (Zorich, 2012). To date the College Art Association has held only one panel on the digital humanities, THATCamp CAA is very new, and digital art history resources often just digitize existing research methods.
Meanwhile, the future of professional art contextual practices like art history and art criticism are in jeopardy. The role an educated and experienced art historian plays in the historical evaluation of art is being challenged by the ‘proletarianization’ of art criticism (Myers, 2013). With the rise of digital media, it is alleged that today everyone’s a critic (or indeed curator) and numbers of full-time employed critics are in rapid decline (Soloman, 2013). Over recent years there have been numerous public discussions (ICA, 2011; Witte de With, 2012; AIAC, 2013) and publications on the crisis of art criticism (Elkins, 2003; Elkins and Newman, 2008; Khonsary and O’Brian 2010).
One of the places this crisis will have the biggest impact is in the East where growing art markets struggle against a vacuum of criticism:
“While there’s an enviable degree of artistic freedom in Hong Kong when compared to the Mainland, what we lack sorely is a culture of professional art criticism that could effectively give the artists an honest assessment on their practice – an essential part of the art ecology to situate the art created into a larger discourse. Good critics usually make good curators, but when critics are largely absent and artists begin to regard staying in the profession as a triumph in itself, it becomes increasingly difficult for Hong Kong art to rise above its sideshow status to the city’s prospering market.”
The practice of contextualising art must adapt to these new economic climates, media and platforms. The art writers and curators of tomorrow must be ready for a multimodal practice that fuses on and offline activities, creativity beyond writing, and working collaboratively — and indeed publicly — in new ways. As theorist Roberto Simanowski explains:
“In postmodern times, interpretation is no longer about control or truth. it is about solving the puzzle of meaning that a work of art represents. it is about suggesting, playing with ideas, reflecting and sharing thoughts and feelings triggered by interaction with the artwork…No single interpretation should be the end of this process, but there should be no end to interpretation.”
This is why I am spending the next 18 months investigating what a framework for online, open, task-based and multimodal art scholarship should look like and why I’d love to hear your thoughts? I want to create a completely open lab for talking about and testing new approaches to art history (the first part of which will go live in early 2014).
So, what tools and skills does the art historian or critic of the future need? Should we flip our classrooms to turn over more teaching time to practical tasks and digital upskilling? Should we borrow from other disciplines or work more collaboratively to future-proof our own practices? In short, if you could design the ultimate course for understanding art, what would it feature and why?
Elkins, J. (2003) What Happened to Art Criticism? Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press.
Elkins, J. and Newman, M. (2008) The State of Art Criticism. New York: Routledge.
Khonsary, J. and O’Brian, M. eds. (2010) Judgment and Contemporary Art Criticism. Vancouver: Folio Series, Artspeak/Fillip Editions.
Lee, E (22nd May 2013) ‘Is Hong Kong Ready for Contemporary Art?’, in Time Out, Hong Kong:
Myers, R. (7th august 2013) ‘The Proletarianization Of Art Criticism’ on RobMyers.org: http://robmyers.org/2013/08/
Simanowski, R. (2011) Digital Art and Meaning: Reading Kinetic Poetry, Text Machines, Mapping Art, and Interactive Installations. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Soloman, D. (2013) ‘Art Talk: Why Art Critics Matter’, WNYC radio: http://ht.ly/pEhrA.
Zorich, D.M (May 2012) ‘ Transitioning to a Digital World: Art History, Its Research Centers and Digital Scholarship. A Report to the Samuel H. Kress Foundation and The Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media, George Mason University: http://www.kressfoundation.
‘The Trouble With Art Criticism’ held at London’s Institute for Contemporary Art in 2011
‘I’m for an art criticism that…’ hosted at Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art, Rotterdam in 2012
‘Art criticism in the future media landscape’ organised by the Association of International Art Critics and staged in Stockholm in 2013.