Everyone’s a Critic: Writing as Reflex
David Everitt Howe
Everyone’s a Critic seeks, in the words of Raphael Rubenstein, to foster a writing that “take[s] judgment-making very seriously” through a variety of hands-on means. We will write reviews for “amateur” and “professional” forums, practicing with Yelp and Tumblr and working towards capsule and long-form magazine reviews. Readings will include short case studies of “successful” and “unsuccessful,” positive and negative reviews. Visiting critics will lend a hand workshopping these activities. The class will culminate with the opportunity to read at Pioneer Works’ monthly Second Sundays event.
Through these exercises, not only will the writing muscle be flexed, but criteria for judgment-making will also be questioned: what does it mean to know “enough” about what you’re writing about? To what degree does academic training and education play a part in critical evaluation? And what is the role of theory in all of this? The end-goal of this class is to look at criticality critically, and to do it in real-time, unencumbered by the need to sound smart (just be smart), be polite, or follow the rules.
The “death” of criticism has been endlessly theorized in essays, conferences, and books since at least the 1990s. Panel discussions ask existential questions like “Is criticism still relevant?,” “Has the curator replaced the critic?,” or “Is the collector the new critic?” A controversial collection of essays entitled The Crisis of Criticism asked, among other queries, whether a review was best educational—picking the best things to see and do as a kind of educational service—or evaluative—focusing on the good and the bad, and willing to go the mile in expressing why something isn’t working, and why.
In sum, most of these analyses point to the continued hyper-commercialization of art as the death knell for critical discourse. Criticism can seem more valuable as a CV entry or promotional tool than something that can effect real change or sway opinion—or better, avoid capitalist instrumentalism by refusing to play nice, regurgitate press releases, or fear offending peers or colleagues.
David Everitt Howe is a Red Hook, Brooklyn-based critic and curator. He received his BFA from the Savannah College of Art and Design and his MA in Modern Art from Columbia University. He has written extensively for The Village Voice, Art Papers, Art in America, Flash Art International, BOMB, where he’s Online Art Editor, Modern Painters, Paper Monument, Frieze, Kaleidoscope, Mousse, Afterall and Art Review, where he’s a contributing editor. He has written features on numerous artists, including Ellen Cantor, Merlin Carpenter, AK Burns, MPA, AL Steiner, and Alan Reid. Howe’s recent curated exhibitions, performances, and projects include collaborations with E.S.P. TV, the Estate of Jimmy DeSana, Charles Harlan, Dynasty Handbag, and Emily Roysdon, for institutions including Pioneer Works, where Howe is currently Curator/Editor, The Kitchen, Participant Inc, MoMA, MoMA PS1, and 47 Canal. His curatorial work has been recently featured in Artforum, Art in America, The New York Times, and The New Yorker, among other publications. Howe is the co-editor of catalogues on Charles Harlan, Shezad Dawood, Molly Lowe, and The Present is the Form of All Life: The Time Capsules of Ant Farm and LST. Currently, he’s working on the first institutional solo exhibition by E.S.P. TV, WORK, and Doreen Garner and Kenya Robinson’s two-person exhibition, White Man on a Pedestal, both forthcoming at Pioneer Works.