It’s like they had the wrong job, they didn’t understand what they were looking at. And their job WAS to understand it.–William Eggleston on the reception of his 1976 MOMA exhibition
Perhaps critics should make an effort to cultivate the habits of a poor collector. The collector already knows what they are looking for, and then works to narrow things down—“I am now one closer!” The critic opens things up, by showing how they could belong to the broad collections called “culture,” “tradition” or maybe even “history.” The thrill of the critic, if one can call it that, comes first from understanding a work, and then from elevating it to its rightful position. Seeing with the eyes of the lackadaisical collector may lead to more surprising results for criticism.
The works that a critic praises may have an external order, but this is only a mask. Unlike a collection, the real order behind these works is always hidden. As the critic moves closer to the collector, though, his or her work moves closer to cataloging. This is a useful activity for historians, but when asked to double as criticism it appears uncurious, if not dogmatic.
The internet can only exaggerate this tendency. Where “authority” is qualified and published by third parties, the critic must construct his or her own platform, or podium. This can be done in many ways. The critic who wills collection may construct a high podium, to keep a narrow gaze fixed in the distance without the distraction of seeing or hearing an audience.