I have been thinking a lot about art/literature reviews. It may sound obvious but I think really you need to read a series of reviews by an author and compare them to your own findings to be able to “trust” them – or at least to know their foibles and leanings.
I recently fell into a trap of trusting a book review by a reviewer unknown to me – I think because what they wrote agreed with my assumptions about the book. Now that I have delved into the book myself, I don’t come to the same conclusions. Oh well.
With art writing for an art newbie (like me) it is more difficult to build up this ‘trust’ as there are few regular reviewers about. I got to rely on Mark Amery’s* column in the Dominion Post (now re-instated I believe), John Hurrell is possibly the most prolific reviewer in NZ but eyeContact mainly only covers the Auckland area. The Listener has a rotating bunch of art writers. I guess the local art mags have more known voices but they aren’t as current being monthly editions. I am only starting to get a hold on art writing in the daily paper here so won’t voice an opinion yet.
The other thing I am finding about reviewing is the conflict of interest. I find it almost impossible to write an art review because I don’t really have the background knowledge to do it properly but I do put forward a personal opinion here. The tiny art scene in NZ is bound to cause at some point a reviewer reporting on a personal friend (or enemy) and this happens in literature as well. How to keep aside the prejudices…?
Maybe I’ll find out as my academic work this year involves some formal reviewing exercises.
* Wonderful talk with him on the Kim Hill show this last Saturday (MP3) talking about labels in art museums and the small world of NZ art curators/writers.