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The evidentiary burdens of criticism, or: is a review an island?

Image courtesy writerscareer.com

Maybe “evidentiary” is not the exactly right term, but a question worth asking is: What is the necessary analytical structure for a review? Though qualitative judgments in reviews, even longer reviews, are not always the norm, a recent exchange with Paddy Johnson on Twitter about her piece on Ryder Ripps at Postmasters in Artnet provoked some thinking about the subject.

In the piece, Paddy, citing Whitney Kimball, writes:

Or, as Art F City’s Whitney Kimball paraphrased it recently on a Facebook thread, basically, “he’s expressing his suppressed manhood by using his fingers to smear a woman’s face." You could argue what he’s doing is misogynistic, and it probably is, but the total absence of a defensible idea is the larger offense.

I took issue with the “you could argue…probably” dimension of this passage, as well as the thin justification presented for such a conclusion. Paddy responded that the matter had been widely discussed in other settings, including on her AFC blog. While I agree that the issue would likely merit an entirely separate piece of writing, involving setting up grounds for an ontological dismissal of an artist based on their work (a link that I have found missing from discussions of Joe Scanlan’s controversial Donelle Woolford work, where a critique of the politics of the piece itself seemed like grounds enough to directly conclude, in these terms, that Scanlan was himself a racist), I wonder the extent to which a work of criticism can argue by citation alone.

So, the question then becomes: Is a review an island? Are there certain discourses to which there exists a right to privacy (in this case Facebook conversations) that trumps public disclosure in a published argument? My sense is that the answer to the latter question should always be no, that all of the reasoning for a given judgment should be presented for scrutiny in a review that stands alone. But maybe there are exceptions: When it comes to evaluations of moral intent, or the airing of a marginalized group’s grievances, one should err on the side of protecting opinions not meant to be public while maintaining a degree of analytical rigor in the delivery of that same judgment in a public forum. And, more broadly, to what extent should reviews anticipate an audience knowledge base, not at the level of reference (i.e. to another artist or artwork) but at the level of argumentation? Are hyperlinks (or footnotes) enough?


considering how self-referential the artworld and its criticism can be, I feel the extent you are asking is pretty large and hyperlinks/footnotes might be enough. Or else, we disagree with the artworld self-referentiality

There is a pretty large distinction between self-referentiality, which can be assumed of most fields, and logical completeness. I understand references to be primarily descriptive, but if a reference is used to make an analytical point, that analysis needs to not be made by reference. Or is this an overly broad/onerous demand? Are there reasonable exceptions?