This document outlines the Graduate Diploma in Arts Criticism to be offered from the second semester of 1998. It contains a rationale for the new course as well as preliminary details. This outline is designed for those with an interest and responsibility for the critical culture surrounding the arts in Australia.
While referring to the theoretical movements such as postcolonialism, this course deals with criticism as a professional pursuit. There is no existing course for those who wish to acquire skills in the practice of arts criticism.
Arts criticism encompasses a broad range of work practices, including freelance writing, media commentary, and print, radio and television journalism. It offers a productive adjunct to established occupations such as newspaper reporting, art curating, gallery management and editing.
For those already practicing arts criticism, there are a number of recent developments that justify professional development. CD-ROM and the Internet have emerged as new media for artistic activity. As yet, there is no critical culture established to contextualise this work. Such commentary is necessary for the development of Australian content in multimedia. Also, the emergence of peoples review sites on the Internet challenges established paradigms of critical practice. Ways of responding to such challenges require development.
The course aims to play a pro-active role in the cultural community by seeking opportunities to nurture new critical cultures. It will chart unexplored critical territory and provide a forum for visiting practitioners. The controversies that regularly arise over the awarding of cultural prizes should benefit from the pool of informed commentary available through the teaching core.
Critics share issues across the range of subject areas. These include not only legal and ethical matters, but also issues of the day, such as political correctness and use of jargon. A serious consideration of these issues better prepares writers for the life of a critic.
Besides overall funding allocation, individual assessment is the most public activity of arts bureaucracies. The controversy about peer review in the Australia Council demonstrates this. A formalised introduction to the business of artistic evaluation provides useful equipment for work in arts bureaucracy. Besides this institutional responsibility, those working within the arts are often called upon to act as judges in art prizes. This course provides them with exposure to the issues involved in casting their judgment.
The Victorian College of the Arts, situated in the heart of the Arts precinct of Victoria, and offering professional training in all art forms, is uniquely placed to offer training in arts commentary, both for those wishing to enter the field of writing, and those already employed in the industry. Many graduates from the Schools of Art, Drama, Dance, Film and Television and Music would enhance their artistic career and extend their career options with graduate studies in the area of Arts Criticism.
The School of Studies in Creative Arts, as a school offering theoretical and practical studies across the visual, performing, media and literary art, provides an appropriately broad academic base for the Graduate Diploma in Arts Criticism. It is anticipated that a proportion of students from the general degree, Bachelor of Visual and Performing Arts, will proceed to this Graduate Diploma.
To place the course on a firm footing, it is necessary to explore the reasons why such a course has not been offered in the past. There may indeed be good reason for this omission. It is hoped that these reasons are either historical, thus capable of amelioration, or the product of a limited perspective.
A. Why professionalise?
According to one understanding of criticism, the capacity to pass judgment on works of art depends on a gut feeling about the work that is impossible to formalise. Such feelings are mostly ingrained in a seasoned criticthe product of genetics and deep exposure to the field. The idea that such a sensibility can be trained in a diploma is merely the product of over-officiousness, which distrusts individual responses.
There is no doubting the role of intuition in the casting of judgment. One way of countering this potential formalism is to include in the curriculum exercises that encourage students to develop their own sensibilitieslearn how to find an inner response and declare it with confidence.
At the same time, criticism is susceptible to rigid patterns of judgment, based on unexamined assumptions about aesthetic quality. The debate around political correctness brought many of these to light, but there are many more. It is important for critics to be aware of the way they cast judgmentsnot only to broaden their repertoire, but also to better frame their opinions for the reader.
How many paid critics are there in Australia? Surely their low number would discourage anyone from spending money in doing this course?
While the major daily newspapers may only employ a few critics, there is a sizeable proportion of these who have moved into criticism from other areas of journalism, without appropriate training. Such a course would be of particular use to those writers.
While not providing full-time work for all, it has often been the case that those working in the arts pursue a diverse range of activities, of which reviewing is the most common element. With an ever greater trend to multi-tasking in most working lives, such a course provides a potential source of professional development for a broad range of cultural workers.
While focussing on criticism, the usefulness of this course is not limited to reviewers. Those involved in the allocation of funds or prizes would find the course of relevance in understanding the practice of judgment.
An essential requirement of a good critic is knowledge of the field. Artists need critics who can interpret their works sensibly within the historical context of their discipline. Art with any depth requires a shared understanding of the language of their medium. A course that focuses on general issues will only produce superficial criticism.
There is no denying the significance of historical understanding. Given the range of art forms, however, it is impractical to teach these within one diploma. This course considers it the responsibility of individual students to develop this knowledge outside the framework of the Graduate Diploma. The diploma instead provides a means by which they can use that knowledge.
General issues that pertain to criticism include writing skills, self-understanding, ethics, sociology of the critic, ideological frameworks and professional opportunities.
The principles of criticism are self-evident. Simply reading a large amount of published criticism will provide necessary understanding of the craft.
One might pose a similar argument against courses in creative writing, journalism or even performance. The diploma provides the space in which individuals can test out their own attempts at criticism, in an encouraging but critical atmosphere.
It goes beyond that.
One of the ambitions of the course is to make possible new critical practices. Despite the enormous support politically and financially, there is as yet no established criticism of multimedia. At the same time, the Internet offers a wide variety of possibilities not simply for the publication of criticism but for the maintenance of a critical practice.
While there are positive opportunities that are not realised in the contemporary scene, there are also potentially negative trends that require consideration. The Internet provides an opportunity for audiences to share their experiences of the arts independently of critics. Already this is happening in online film and book databases. Does this represent the beginning of the end of critics? Is criticism an inherently elite practice, destined to die out as more participatory modes evolve?
If for nothing else, a professional course is necessary to meet the challenges of a digital age.
Aims and new directions
Acquire skills needed for working in a range of areas involving arts criticism.
Be able to match critical strategies to their appropriate targets.
Develop an understanding of the role of criticism in society
At the completion of the course, the graduate should be able to:
Produce good critics
There has been much public discussion of late about the need to improve the standard of arts criticism. Of course, this can be dismissed as the usual complaints by artists at their treatment by local critics. However, there is a strong argument that criticism plays a necessary role in the cultural ecology, alongside production and management. As such, it requires a similar level of professional support as other dimensions of cultural life.
Thus, the main aim of the course is to produce graduates who are well prepared to deal with demands of critical practice. It is hoped that the long-term impact of this will be to raise the level of critical response to a variety of arts events. The assumed benefit of this is to support artistic innovation and standards.
Stimulate critical culture
Besides the production of critics, the course also aims to support cultural life by providing resources available to the broader public. In the longer term, this will include public forums and conferences.
Accompanying the Graduate Diploma in Arts Criticism will be a World Wide Web site titled Foyer. This site will include links to online resources on arts criticism as well as an archive of reviews published by Australian critics. This archive will serve as resource for students of the course, and provide a valuable reference for an otherwise ephemeral enterprise. The current web site for the course is accessible from the schools home page http://www.vca.unimelb.edu.au/ssca/
Employees within the media: Graduates can extend their career potential by branching out into new areas of commentary. This opportunity exists for those working in print journalism, radio and television, and arts management.
Employers within the media: Graduates will increase their understanding of the issues and possibilities of Arts Criticism. This will assist in the establishment and extension of publications and broadcasts in this area. This applies to editors, gallery directors, company managers, and publicists.
Self-employed writers: Graduates will have access to a greater range of outlets for critical writing. The electronic publication of their work on the course web site will provide a profile for potential employers.