Remember the days of the email love letter? I do. They were lovely–you could secretly compose long screeds to your beloved while at work and pretend it was just business. I’ll bet a lot of you kids are nodding your heads right now and saying, well, yeah…but for me textual flirtation was all about instant messaging. Perish the thought, I say. A proper love letter should be lengthy, sometimes even ridiculously so, filling pages of loose-leaf paper, scrolls of screen, however long it takes to come even an iota closer to capturing in words that ineffable feeling that you’re shyly, determinedly, bursting to convey.
To me, writing about art is a lot like writing a love letter. I’m sure many of you are snorting with derision at that statement, but I don’t care; I really mean it. Why else would those of us who still bother to write about art keep doing it, if not for the sheer stupid pleasure of using exorbitant language to capture that which words can never adequately convey?
That’s why I’m kind of aghast at the rise of Twitter and Facebook as a growing forum for art criticism these days. Now, I totally get the social aspects and benefits of these applications, and to the way they provide increased and enriched opportunities for argument and back-talk, along with a gossipy sort of zing to art discourse in general, I say right on. But I mourn the passage of long-form art criticism (can we please just call it art writing? The term ‘criticism’ always feels much too, well, critical to me). The blogosphere still allows people to write about an artwork or a show at some length, but even that is changing: some bloggers who’ve held their fingers to the wind for far longer than I are noting (in decidedly hopeful tones, I should add) the drastic streamlining of the blog form, or even, as Deanna Isaacs surmised a few weeks ago in the Reader, the death of text itself.
Art, like any object of affection, deserves extravagant prose devoted to it, damn the word count. Even work that may not be all that great is worthy of elaboration in my book. Do we really want Peter Schjeldahl and the museum curators to be the only ones given the space and opportunity to write about art at length? Personally, I think that would be a fucking shame.
That being said, I’m not against Twittering art reviews at Bad At Sports–I think we should try it. I’m well aware that blogs are not the place to try and resuscitate long-form criticism, and I’m continually fascinated with the different ways people use words to grapple with art. The — what is it — 140 words? — that Twitter allows can provide a good exercise in summing up a work of art or an exhibition concisely and with, as the genre seems to require, just the right amount of deadpan irony. I myself possess none of the pith required to Twitter well, but I genuinely look forward to seeing what those who have a knack for it will do with this emerging form.