Text/Vivian Ting




Here comes the golden age for artworks. The booming art market does not only rejuvenate the public’s imagination towards art itself, but also renovate the cityscape – with the joint efforts from the Government, cultural institutions and business sector alike, art decorations are seen in government buildings, markets, parks, and shopping centres. You may have an art piece as your “neighbour” when you are on public transport. This cultural shift in the territory brings various artistic writings – news reports on art events, features in magazines, exhibition catalogues, and commentaries on the Internet etc. While contemporary art sparks off wide ranges of creative practices, artistic writings complete the picture with words.

Artistic writings to this day, which are collectively termed as “art criticism”, carry diverse components – ranging from personal reflections, intellectual packaging from commercial art galleries, analysis of the art market, to aesthetic account on artists and their works. One key trick employed in giving art criticism is to replace what one sees and experiences with what one emotionally connects. The other one is to attach academic theories and cultural criticism to whatever art pieces in description. The tricks extend neither the space for art criticism nor discussions on the development in art, culture and social ideology. Instead, they only bring vague and detached accounts of art itself.

How are we going to open up new horizons in the field of art criticism? Let’s explore how four local art critics do so through an analysis of their writing styles.

Three, Chan Sai Lok exercises his tricks, “cloud hands”, by first targeting at the presentation of each art piece. He successfully draws readers into the aura of the work for an experience of the artists’ concepts and emotions. Sai Lok’s focus in his art criticism is to elaborate on how artists transform their ineffable emotions, delicate senses and intellectual ideas into friendly art pieces. He does it through detailed analysis on the text and its structure, rhythm, materials and contexts of visual languages. When it comes to contemporary art bearing intellectual messages, Sai Lok explores the links between the challenging presentation and its grounding principles and theories. Sai Lok further demonstrates his writing in a poetic style – by going with the flow of both the visual impacts of the work and his personal emotional shifts viewing it. He vividly expresses feelings in tantalizing words, even when it is an inimical work in description. Plain and loose as his texts may seem, Sai Lok auspiciously delivers his views, offers diverse analytical approaches and poses new questions to readers.

Yang Yeung exercises her meticulous thinking and all-rounded arguments in her art criticism. She first detects flaws in her opponents’ stance by analyzing their logic. When the flaws are exposed and counter-attack is impossible, she readily advances herself with her solid standpoints. Yang sees every artwork as a material representation of physical senses and intellectual thinking. It might be hard to translate the direct emotional strikes it brings to audience into words; yet the humanistic values, critical thinking and genuine feelings that art explores all relate closely to the set of objective rules binding individuals together in a society. Yang’s art criticism aims at starting an ideological debate – in which one shares his logic with the kindred, fuels discussions and reflects on the current cultural context. Her excellence in understanding of various academic theories secures herself a firm foothold in the field. It is with that she organizes her ideas and elaborates on principles and values guiding her journey in art. For Yang, the writing process is one with endless reflections. Her ultimate goal is not to back her ideas with countless theories, but to save positive energy against the negative aura that persists in the contemporary art culture.

Jeff Leung firmly grasps the theme of art criticism. He twists, lingers and support ideas with historical examples. His sole focus on art criticism stays in the way exhibitions create multiple meanings in art. He sees exhibitions as an indisputable platform, not only for showcasing contemporary art, but also for continual discussions among artists, curators and audience. It is through this platform our perception in art can be sustained, constructed and deconstructed. Important as it is, local art criticism seldom touches on the system of curation. Jeff concentrates on examination of the development history of local exhibitions – from types of curation, mechanism and logic driving exhibitions to shifts in their space. From these he considers the construction of tastes in contemporary art and relevant systems. Leung writes freely to detail evolutions in the art ecosystem: borrowing elements from popular culture like animation, creating new syntax by putting nouns in different contexts together. This not only opens up new dimension in readers’ mind, but also reflects how curation impacts audiences’ viewing experience. It is from that unique experience one creates, adds, deletes and alters the meaning and art piece carries.

Seeing herself as a core member of the local art scene, Anthony Leung’s art criticism shares a dual aim – to reason art, and to change the status quo. Her straight forward personality is duly reflected in her powerful art criticism pointing directly to myths towards analysis artwork, or the less than agreeable phenomena in local art scene. When art criticism interprets the world with words, the creative process of art does so with intellectual perspective. They together complete a dialectical process. It is through writing and creation that artists and art critics engage in constant dialogue, which brings diverse voices to art and fuels cultural development. Anthony thinks art criticism should start with the visual and emotional experience with the art piece, followed by communication with artists. The latter helps to explore the thinking process the artists engage themselves in, as well as the socio-cultural background involved. Her art criticism does not only offer microscopic view at individual work in multiple perspectives, but also macro ones towards the art ecosystem. Her work critically arouses public’s concern on cultural topics. She applies the abstract concepts in theories when breaking the conventional ideological framework. She does not only offer multiple meanings in the creative process, but also set forth a direction for ongoing cultural discussion. In all, she is a powerful agent for cultural evolution.

Art Criticism – what for?

The styles of art criticism vary, yet they share a common aim – to envision the formulation of art discourse and shifts in cultural trends through examination of the development of artwork, exhibitions, and art ecosystem as a whole. Their joint effort in stretching the platform of art as one public thinking machinery does not only initiate multiple perspectives for reflection, but also generate cultural discourses uniquely fit the contemporary society.