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The Importance of Doing Something and Discussing Everything: critical writing in Liverpool

For the second guest contribution for the Portfolio NW a-n Artists' talking blog, arts writer Linda Pittwood discusses how blogging can aid the development of critical writing. 

The Importance of Doing Something and Discussing Everything: critical writing in Liverpool

Talking at Art Basel Hong Kong earlier this year, Jan Dalley, Arts Editor for the Financial Times, defined critical writing about art as being “aesthetic judgements that are not commercially motivated, and therefore are inherently separate to the art market.” The publishing platform for critical writing could be, she went on to say, “a critic writing in a broadsheet, a blogger, someone’s PhD – anywhere that is not part of the market.”

Although there are many definitions of critical writing, I have selected this one because of that separation of the critic from the commercial side of artistic production. This suggests two things: 1. Blogging, as it is democratic and largely undertaken by writers for no financial recompense, is the ideal platform for critical writing and 2. Artists (especially those at the early stages of their careers, who are unrepresented and less locked into ‘the market’) and critical writers have an important relationship.

In Liverpool, there are many artists living and working in the city despite the lack of galleries to represent them and the often media-reported ‘graduate brain drain.’  Their activities are documented and discussed through many good local blogs, both multi-voiced (,, and produced by individuals, as well as through the websites of artist-led groups, via social media and national platforms such as a-n's Interface.

To look at the issue of snobbishness related to blogging, what better source to turn to than Oscar Wilde?  Specifically his essay of 1891 ‘The Critic as Artist: Upon the Importance of Doing Nothing and Discussing Everything.’ The essay takes the form of an intense conversation between two fictitious characters as they discuss the nature and motivation of the critic and criticism. Although written over 120 years ago, the issues Wilde raises and the arguments he makes are resonant in the context of the discourse about online art criticism. 

Wilde makes a distinction between journalists and critics. Of the former he says, “Some limitation might well, and will soon, I hope, be placed upon some of our newspapers and newspaper writers. For they give us the bald, sordid, disgusting facts of life.”  Whereas, of critics he remarks, “Temperament is the primary requisite for the critic--a temperament exquisitely susceptible to beauty, and to the various impressions that beauty gives us.”

Blog content varies wildly, which is part of its charm. The quality of blogs can fall (very broadly) into these two categories: those that ‘give us the bald, sordid facts of life’ and those that examine ‘the various impressions that beauty gives us.’ The ways in which we share and signpost content online helps to create a discussion that is far more ephemeral and complex than simply a string of comments under a provocative article. The conversations that start online will inevitably seep into and enhance our daily lives and artistic practices.

Recently I contributed to the exhibition ‘Processing’ at Cornerstone Gallery, Liverpool and to a workshop called ‘creative thinking’ which was part of the Love your Blog event series coordinated by The Double Negative. To the Love your Blog participants I reaffirmed that bloggers shouldn’t be frightened of publishing content that is of exceptional quality. Blogging can help a critical writer to develop, take ownership of and maintain their identity, which is more valuable in terms of developing a career and influence than any financial reward.  In addition, blog posts are highly subjective, and even emotional, which far from being a bad thing, is also a requirement of good critique (as I discuss in my essay The potential of ergodic literature as a format for art criticism in the publication that accompanied the Processing exhibition).

Blogs are unique in their dual role of providing information and facilitating discussion. That is what makes them such a useful tool for the critical writer, and an important part of the support network for emerging artists. Liverpool isn’t alone in creating opportunities for writers and artists. However, the events I have mentioned, along with exhibitions such as Portfolio NW at one of the city’s key venues, demonstrate Liverpool understands that by doing something and discussing everything, there is the potential for very interesting things to occur.

Linda Pittwood is an exhibition coordinator and arts writer based in Liverpool.


Image: Oscar Wilde aged about 30.


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