Beyond criticism, or, Notes from fantasy island (a response to Criticism and the collapse of culture)

Artist Paul Wilks responds to Eric Coombes’s tour de force google_ad_width = 970; of an essay /* xin-1 */ (Criticism and

the collapse of culture, The Jackdaw Mar-Apr 2011)

Matthijs src="//"> Van Boxsel cites, in The Encyclopaedia of Stupidity, a ‘Fame Machine’ devised by Villiers de l’Isle Adam, (1883) in which fame could be manufactured ‘by

organic means’. Simply put, the ‘machine’ is a theatre but with a paid audience to respond appropriately and overtly to the
and thoughtful analysis by Dr Eric Coombes (The Jackdaw  96) google_ad_height = 90; on the links between celebrity culture,
Diana-death syndrome, the ‘Sensation’ show

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(particularly the Myra Hindley ‘portrait’) and the
impoverishment of art criticism, suggests the

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immanent emergence of a culture in which truth and fiction are indistinguishable from one another. Rather than conforming to the whims and

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of such a culture the artist would do well to stay aloof rather than be absorbed into such google_ad_client = "ca-pub-3967079123942817"; a maelstrom of self-deception. The malady is now deeply rooted in
everyday experience, be it via tabloid, TV or BBC, politics, celebrity or ‘soap’, surrogate reality permeates our existence at every turn and is entering the genetic structure of Western google_ad_height = 90; society.

The thespians’ edict to ‘suspend disbelief’ before entering a theatre seems now the prerequisite for much

everyday experience, let

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expedition to the
Turner Prize.  In Theatre something was to be gained from this exercise in emotional immersion.
One’s thoughts may be diverted, adjusted, confirmed


or refuted by the performance. In short the audience deliberately subject themselves to a kind of learning process which they may apply to life. But lurking within this helpful edict is the embryo of
celebrity culture (it used to be called the ‘Star System’
in the film industry) which now dominates whole swathes

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of peripheral media. /* xin2 */ Soap stars ‘become’ their character, actresses devise tortured pasts for
their biographers, rock singers live
up to the expectations of tabloid journalists, pious politicians bonk their secretarial staff and defraud the public purse, artists and their
acolytes spout artbollocks. In google_ad_client = "ca-pub-3967079123942817"; this fuzzy land between truth and lies, fact and fiction, the /* 9-970x90 */ media’s ability to elevate criminals, hucksters and pornographers to celebrity status erodes what small vestige of public morality survives and paves //--> the path to ‘Myra’ at the RA.

Much of what we are urged to

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accept as art involves subscribing to
a critical fantasy as flimsy as a house of cards yet as opaque as src="//"> the pyramid of

quickly resort to expressions of admiration for the subject’s manipulation of the system and invariably conclude with a litany of sale-room

prices as the final, undeniable proof. Of what? Talent, skill, originality? Such slavish conformity amounts to a value/aesthetic principle no better than

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that of the Antiques Road Show; i.e. “I didn’t like it before but I do like it now”. It’s amazing how so many artists are willingly led
by the nose by the critical acclaim heaped on the talentless but ‘successful’ few. “Get real !” is the ludicrous response of these
happy Lemmings. The frightening aspect


of this abandonment of objectivity is that many who bend to this imperative are holders of lecturing posts. With each step towards accommodating the appalling output of celebrity artists, their integrity must, of necessity, become increasingly foggy and doubtful. I know of a lecturer who, despite all contrary evidence, not only ‘revised’ his opinion of ‘our Tracey’ and her drawing skills but, faced with her published
One Thousand Drawings, now claims her as one of his own and extols her talents as an exceptional draughtsman as being evident to him way back in art college.

The closing of

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the gap between truth and fiction is no accident but neither is it a conspiracy. Most probably
it is the inevitable by-product of the chemistry of Capital and Media (or greed and stupidity if you prefer). Dr Coombes’ polemic regarding the demise of coherent art criticism indicates this deeper fault in Western thought. The West’s new ability to ‘suspend disbelief’ at every turn now clashes with a religious value system in which an irrational Faith is the hub of existence. //--> From the expedient blurring of truth and our ‘creative’ relationships with modern history, to
Blair’s self-delusion
on WMDs, it implies that civilisation now walks a tightrope of what we prefer as truth over the void of the reality. As BB King says,  “better not look down”.

 The Jackdaw May-Jun 2011