Dear Dr. Boli: I have just been hired as an art critic for my local alternative newspaper; but, in my zeal to obtain the fifteen dollars a week associated with the position, I sort of forgot to mention to the editor that I knew absolutely nothing about art. Now what do I do? I have to write a review of something every week, but how do I review it when somebody tips over a garbage can at the Mattress Factory and puts a plaque beside it? —Sincerely, Margaret Pinchnettle, Art Critic, Weekly Standard.
Dear Madam: Your position is by no means as difficult as you seem to suppose. In fact, it would be far more difficult for you if you did know something about art, since there is nothing intelligent to say about the kind of art you will be called upon to review in terms of composition or artistic technique.
Instead, remember that your readers believe that the message is the only thing that matters in art. If, therefore, you tell them that the art you have just seen raises important questions of identity, gender, or sexuality, you may be sure that your reviews will meet with approval. For example, an artist scrawls “AIDS IS BAD” in black paint on a bedsheet and hangs it on a wall: your review will mention that it raises important questions of sexuality. Or an artist places a pair of vacuum cleaners side by side; the installation raises important questions of identity. Or an artist cuts out random pictures of fashion models and Civil War generals and pastes them together in a clumsy collage: the work raises important questions of gender. If the work is particularly ambitious, such as the overturned garbage can you describe, you may say that it raises important questions of identity, gender, and sexuality.
So much for what you need to know about art. Dr. Boli recognizes, however, that you have column inches to fill, so he recommends padding out your review with highlights from the artist’s life, which can be found readily in Wikipedia. You must treat each incident in the artist’s life as if it were a work of art, which is to say that you must find the message in his dropping out of art school after three days or being arrested for driving while intoxicated. It goes without saying that the message you will find in these incidents is that the artist is raising important questions of identity, gender, sexuality, or all three.