“Thought is more important than art. To revere art and have no understanding of the process that forces it into existence, is finally not even to understand what art is.” – Amiri Baraka
Hours upon hours designated to formal work but instead squandered on the Internet has exposed me to the rise of distinct personal narratives on Social Media, where everyone is a critic. With the restriction of 140 characters and the infinite possibilities of a hashtag I’ve read some of the most insightful, concise and often hilarious declarations on topics ranging from racist exhibitions at prominent institutions, black female representation in Shondaland to the beautiful cinematography of Solange’s wedding photographs.
If you want to know where the new and exciting Black Art critics are: sign in online. We have carved out our own corners on the World Wide Web via Tumblr, Twitter, Vine and other dot coms. What we are essentially doing when we operate in these self-made digital spaces is finding ways to inform, inspire and collaborate with each other and when we do it right we leave behind the poisonous bureaucracy, rigidness and nepotism of the long-established institutions we’re told to aspire to. I would not be able to articulate the things I can and confidently execute or express my artistry without the informal teachers and peers I’ve connected with virtually where there is no fee, no application, grilling interview process or prerequisites. We’re fluid, intersect and we simply exist without red tape and routine. The sense of agency and autonomy afforded to us on these very intimate accounts is what is missing in the wider public spaces and platforms that often fail us, if they even consider us at all. I can only imagine that without the cyber network marginalised voices would remain murmurs as they have for so long.
Depending on what day you ask and me how heavy the downpour of rain is I will say that I’m lucky enough to live London, one of the biggest cultural capitals in the world. Although I don’t get to enjoy the equivalent pleasures of a dedicated Black visual arts space such as MoCADA and Studio Museum, as I do in New York, I have a geographical advantage in my proximity to mainland Europe and Africa, home to galleries representing a multiplicity of Black artists. And they all flocked to my city this October for the second annual 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair. This year I volunteered on a few days and wandered the rooms with an Alice In Wonderland like curiosity and awe. So far enamored I internally released an Oscar Wao like exclamation of “The beauty! The beauty!”
But in all of the metropolis’ bittersweet glory I’m reminded that only 6% of museum and gallery workforce in London is of a BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) background and a menial number of 15 artworks out of 3000 in Tate’s collection are by black British artists of which only 4 are by black women and this is all painfully clearwithout knowing the figures.
Whilst I’m often dismayed by the hyper-invisibility of Black Artists being exhibited and championed by the mainstream contenders, the rest of us who use the digital to communicate have not been idle. In the spirit of Spiral (US), BLK Art Group (UK) and other black artist movements, Cecile Emeke, Sorry You Feel Uncomfortable, my own curatorial collective The Lonely Londoners and now ARTS.BLACK, to name a few, are acting as direct strengths of resistance to the expected passivity and compliance of marginalized groups. We have and will continue to question and agitate the status quo with audacity, audacity and more audacity. FUBU style: for us and by us.
I do not have a traditional art background of any kind. I did not inherit any over-priced pieces or membership passes that speared my affinity for this world. But I am a working-class child of immigrants whose journey to this country from the Caribbean alongside other passages across the Black Atlantic is the most artistic thing I know. This is my starting point. I have an Artsy account where I keep tabs of the artists I like, apps like SLAM let me know how close I am to a gallery or museum and Hyperallergichelps me stay abreast to the latest in art news. This is what I feel makes me qualified to speak of and be about ‘that life’.
We should be actively recording our interactions with the art and artistic practices we consume on a daily basis that we find to be intellectually stimulating, politically charged and aesthetically pleasing. Even Beyonce has taken to documenting her own version of art history 101 and Hennessy Youngman, who considers Damien Hirst to be“the Bono of the art world”, is clearly one of the most apt Black art critics there is.
In an effort to make sure that we’re always moving from theory to practice, I want to offer those who could benefit from it an easy guide to critiquing an art. I’m not an expert and this is not the blueprint, just an option:
- Make a critical and clear interpretation what the art/artist means to you and elaborate on your reasoning for this.
- Describe their style, technicality and execution with consideration to the artist statement.
- Be confident in your somewhat subjective validation and be ready to swim in a sea of opinions.
- Most importantly, have fun with it!
Like Drake I also want art money and want to be a serious art collector but until that time you’ll find me in your local art room, copiously eyeing the exhibition statement, sipping free wine with my gallery girls as flagrantly and unapologetically as ever. We are here.
Rianna Jade Parker is a reader before anything else and a writer who writes for other readers. Her curatorial, artistic and social practices are as informed by bell hooks, James Baldwin as they are by Biggie and Lil Kim.