Meanwhile, pondering the role of criticism

March 13, 2009

Over at the pretty excellent Urban Omnibus, Andrew Blum has written a cogent little piece speculating on the role of architectural criticism today. Using Ada Louise Huxtable’s On Architecture as a jump-off point, Blum notes the shifting tides in both architecture practice (now more than ever cross-disciplinary) and the nature and role of criticism. For Blum it’s a new day for both, the end of “the Bilbao Ponzi era” (the architect-critic relationship as circle jerk). “The ‘two thumbs up’ part of the equation seems less important now than the understanding and questioning that goes into that,” he writes.

It’s a short platform to posit a few (soul-searching but not quite hand-wringing) questions, and may not catch on beyond a ruminative little set of design enthusiasts. But these are the right questions to ask. For me, as part of a small group of aspiring design critics, they are also haunting issues. Extending the criticism umbrella to the broader design field, we could add a few more questions to Blum’s:

* With print media struggling for profitability and influence in the era of ubiquitous, atomized digital media, where are readers actually going to look for and find criticism?

* Who are the real patrons of criticism? Beyond critics, who comprises the main constituency of criticism consumers?

* If design literacy is increasing (arguably it is, otherwise even some of the programming on Bravo and HGTV would not exist), then does the perceived value of critic as connoisseur plummet?

* And if increased literacy facilitates broader capability for criticism–that is, if everyone can be a critic–how can we estimate the value of criticism as a formal discipline?

Ponder these if you will. The only firm piece of criticism on offer here at the moment: Get comfy first if you have to, but this will not save you.


One comment

  1. As part of that small group of ADCs, these questions are very much on my mind too. I’m hoping that design criticism becomes as widespread and commonplace as dining or movie reviews; something people will want to read even if they never plan on going to the restaurant or seeing the film. Part of overall cultural literacy. The media and format remain to be seen since the landscape is shifting so rapidly. In the meantime, if you really want to get comfy, try this: http://www.theslanket.com/

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