irritation & criticality

A quick post because I read this and thought it interesting. I’d like to pickup on this line: “Irritation clouds our judgment, frustrates our relationships and gets our priorities all wrong.”

Because it is a tricky one and I find it difficult to ascribe to. When doing an MA in Fine Art one thing taught is to develop criticality and it is something that  Gill Nicol articulates very well indeed. I remember her asking me a few years ago, while we were driving in a car together, what I thought about the term ‘criticality’. My first response was that it irritates me. And sometimes it still does. But it is only the word itself, the way it can sometimes be used as a language barrier, that bugs me. The action of working in a mode of criticality is something that helps people to consider things, in my work those things are artworks. It’s not about judgement – judgement is the ability to make considered decisions or come to sensible conclusions. Criticality doesn’t frame thinking in expectation, therefore no decision is needed. It’s about interpretation. We all experience anything in the world different, as we bring with us prior experiences. There is no one conclusion.

Interpreting meaning from an artwork can be challenging, there may be very few clues to help the viewer into the work. The very absence of the clues is indeed a clue itself. Why would the artist strip their work back so far? What does it remind the viewer of? Where else have they seen this done? What does the label say?

Questions flow from curious minds and I hope we can presume that people who visit art galleries are motivated by curiosity. The role of criticality is surely to evoke questions, to provoke an enquiry, to take the viewer on a joyride of thinking and imagining. Sometimes the emotional response will be irritation, which can of course, as Seth Godin says, be frustrating. But irritation can be a positive trigger, it makes me (for one) wonder WHY do I feel irritated? And it may be that my irritation is reasonable, because the artwork is brilliant in most ways but one….that it isn’t a case of expectation, but one of wishing it was just a teeny bit more rounded, or the video projection was just slightly better aligned with the screen it’s on.

So in short, irritation is not always a bad thing, sometimes it can be something that activates our intuition and helps us (as artists/curators) make things maybe just a little bit clearer, or more precise. After all, if the artist or curator states that the artwork is all about X,Y and Z but all we see is 1, 2 & 3 then either we are not asking the correct questions OR the artist is not conveying the messages they wish to convey quite as well as they could.

I hope this makes sense, if not, feel free to discuss, it’s all in the questions and I have written this in one brief sitting. There will be holes.





Published by carolyn black

I'm an artist and also commission contemporary art in unusual locations. As a producer, I fundraise, curate, project manage and deliver projects. I'm also a writer and film-maker.

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