Lotte Konow Lund: How do you define art criticism?
Kjetil Røed: Usually, one tends to say that it is about distinguishing between good and bad; man, that is imprecise. Art criticism is about examining why the art works or not. An “exemplary consumer”—in the sense of being a model—is another name I have given to the role of the critic. Through exemplary criticism, good and bad are exposed.
Konow Lund:Should critics have an education in or an experience of what they write about? What is reasonable to demand from an art critic?
Røed: I am educated in comparative literature and philosophy. You should, of course, have a relevant education, a frame of reference for thinking about art. A formal education in art, though, is not necessary and perhaps not even desirable. Curiosity is more important.
Konow Lund: What is the state of Norwegian art criticism compared to that of other countries?
Røed: My impression is that the difference is not very great. The interest in art is pretty much the same nationally as internationally, and—happily—it seems to be growing at the moment. But, of course, there is a difference in the sense that Norwegian critics tend to be better paid than critics in most other countries.
Konow Lund: When kunstkritikk was established in 2003 people argued that Norwegian art needed professionalization—what is the role of the critic in all this?
Røed: The point with kunstkritikk is that it is a medium where criticism is allowed a space of its own as a genre. Where a multitude of voices can experiment and locate a style of writing and thinking about art. kunstkritikk has made that possible. The last 10 years have been a golden age in art criticism, in a sense.
Konow Lund: Has the art scene profited from an increase in art criticism and, if it has, how?
Røed: There have been both negative and positive effects, I think. I am one of the writers emerging from the first 10 years of kunstkritikk. When you get the opportunity to write extensively, you also get the chance to work with yourself. How you think and feel about the world. The drawback with kunstkritikk has probably been how much academic writing has been stressed—which has, to some extent become jargon. I think that half of the art criticism being written in the last 10 years exists not so much to make things lucid, but to complicate matters—it is an institutional, decorative, way of writing about art which to some extent distorts the value of the art itself.
Konow Lund: What are the mechanisms behind what is and is not written about in the Norwegian media?
Røed: Well, first of all, it seems pretty hopeless. The critic rarely has a say in what they are supposed to write about. You are dependent on whims of the editors. Sadly, most of the time it is established artists that are chosen. Celebrities. I am happy to say that my own newspaper gives me a fair share of freedom here. At kunstkritikk it is probably easier to highlight lesser-known and emerging artists because their agenda is, at least to some extent, to cover what is new. In the mainstream media covering the entire nation, it is the big institutions that receive the attention. And that’s a shame.
Konow Lund: As a critic, do you think about how the state or private interests intervene in the artworld? If so, when?
Røed: It happens, obviously, when already established artists get more and more space to show their work, as well as governmental grants and general attention. Being established makes you more established; and so you also get attention from collectors. Actually, in some cases, it doesn’t matter whether what you make is any good at all. Once you are in position you can make crap art and still get all the money. Private and public interests are often mixed together, we live in a small country and the same people circulate in both fields.
I think—without any empirical evidence to back it up—that corruption is not uncommon.
Konow Lund: Do you think about gender when you write?
Røed: It’s difficult not to notice how men are over-represented. And that is a problem if women make art that is equally good. It is not a problem though, if that is not the case. I’m not for giving women more opportunities on the sole basis of their gender. That being said, I think there actually are more good female artists nowadays in this country, so the lack of symmetry is a real problem. Men mostly make the hip and decadent hipster-art favored by museums and collectors my age. Most of the time this kind of art is dull and boring.
Konow Lund: Mention something or someone who has been important for contemporary art criticism in Norway.
Røed: The most obvious is probably Tommy Olsson. You can say what you like about the way he writes, but he alone has increased interest in kunstkritikk. He is a posterboy for art. The multitude of new voices emerging from kunstkritikk is also important, of course. It has contributed immensely to our ability to talk about art publicly. There are also three grants for critics now, which is amazing. There should be a lot more, obviously, but this is a recognition of sorts. I got it a couple of years ago and it really gave me time to think and assess what I was doing.
Konow Lund: What would the perfect scene for criticism look like for you? What would you change?
Røed: You need a multitude of voices and publics. There are not enough here. There has to be space for several views on art, which is also lacking. We need more grants for critics, more space in magazines and newspapers. Not really that much more, but more. Every national and regional daily should have a critic. It’s really imperative that we get a conversation around art, going—but a conversation that revolves around what art is for in peoples lives. How art is a technology for living. You also need to pay critics better. Without that you don’t have the chance to develop an opinion, a fearless voice, and after a while you have to get another job because you have children or something like that. Art should be a tool to help us live better lives, but that’s not easy when money is an issue.
ContributorsLotte Konow Lund
Lotte Konow Lund is an artist and has exhibited in several museums, among them SKMU Sørlandets Kunstmuseum, Museum of Contemporary Art Norway, and Kunstraum Kreuzberg / Bethanien.Kjetul Røed
KJETIL RØED is an art critic working for Norway’s largest daily newspaper Aftenposten. He writes for several other publications as well, among them kunstkritikk.no, Billedkunst, and Vinduet. He has also written for artforum.com, Frieze and ArtReview.