The Armchair Critic

Manifesto of The Armchair Critic

Reading this column is one of those things in life you do “at own risk”, like entering a mall or falling in love or being alive. But it has its perks too – and ART STATE Senior Writer and The Armchair Critic columnist Thato Rossouw can’t keep you guessing any longer as he tables his manifesto.

Be warned! This column is not to be trusted – well, at least not in that “well informed art connoisseur giving his trusted and valuable insights on any and everything art” type of way that such things are normally trusted. This is because, one, I’m nowhere near being a well-informed connoisseur of the arts and, two, if trustworthiness and worthiness are the yardsticks with which you will judge the contents herein written, our reader-writer relationship is one that’s going to be a boat full of disappointments – a boat in which you and I will, on a monthly basis, drift in a sea of confusion and sail into the horizon of doubt.

But do not despair, for there is a land of hope and understanding somewhere in this horizon that we will occasionally find ourselves sailing towards, and it is my hope that we do so regularly, and in a deliberate, rather than fortuitous, manner.

Now, whenever you commit yourself to reading this column, what you will in actual fact be doing is opening yourself up to a flood of, like the title suggests, well-written armchair criticism of the art both in Bloemfontein and the rest of the world.

The formula used in the development of said criticism will be facile and, therefore, easy to follow.

You will at times hear me, without having the slightest clue of how paint is mixed, whinge about how a certain painter’s work wasn’t quite representative of the theme it was painted around and, without having ever set foot into a single recording studio in my life, kvetch about how a certain rapper or singer’s album was just … well, shit.

But, like with all things that find comfort and rest on an armchair, this column will have Four Cardinal Pillars upon which it will lean for support and direction, and they are as follows:

  • Criticise All Without Any Bias or Prejudice;
  • Criticise With As Much Openness and Honesty As Humanly Possible;
  • Respect My Readers’ Times;
  • Work on Getting Back The Land

There’s a downside, though. Being the museum, theatre and gallery habitué that I am, a good chunk of the rants that will fill the pages of this column will be skewed more towards the visual side of the art world.

But, even with that being said, this doesn’t mean that other forms of art will escape the fury of my whinges. I am by far a very democratic and equal opportunity whinger, and will be very liberal with my distribution of whinges throughout this platform.

No painter, writer, singer, rapper, dancer, actor, or any art practitioner is too far for me to reach, nor is any exhibition, art project, or fashion show to highbrow for me to attend. Basically, if it has anything to do with art, there’s a chance that my whinges will reach it.

Now, like all the other douche bags who sit on a desk and judges other people’s “hard work” from the safety of a computer monitor, throughout my kvetching I’m going to step on a few toes and make a couple of enemies. But this doesn’t faze me because, like I always say to myself in the mirror every time after my daily morning constitutional, “If you ain’t got people hating on you, then you ain’t doing anything worth mentioning.”

As for the reasons why this column was founded, it all began when I realized that, for some reason or another, art has been given a highbrow, cheese and wine, exclusionary status that makes it impossible for the layman to access; that through their use of esoteric and indecipherable language, art practitioners and their contemporaries have made it almost impossible for the simple man on the street to enjoy the beauties and joys of art.

Well, this column is here to change that.

It is here to police the gatekeepers, and open up the arts to the rest of us; to make art a commodity enjoyable by any and every one.

But, because the criticism that will fill these pages will be made from an armchair critic’s point of view, the use of opaque language will be avoided at all cost – and this is because even I, myself, am unable to understand some of the things art lovers have been subjected to reading over the years. But this does not mean that the contents found herein will be watered down and vapid. If anything, I actually believe that whoever reads this column will leave it having learned more about the arts than they would have in those cheesy art magazines.

To reassure some of you guys, please know that by making the content of this column simple, I will in no way be rendering useless the sophistication of its subject matter, for I believe it was Leonardo da Vinci (and not your bank, but I’m not judging you) who once said, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”

So, in the simplification of my work, I hope to reveal to you, and to myself, the ultimate sophistication that lies underneath every painter’s brushstroke, every musicians note, and every dancer’s movements. It is my hope that, through our efforts at digging through the esoteric bullshit that lays over the surface of the world of the arts, we will one day discover gems that are hidden underneath.

The journey upon which you and I will be traveling over the next coming months – sailing in our boat full of disappointments in a sea of confusion – is one that is going to be filled with a lot of high tides and heavy storms.

Our efforts at finding the simple in what has already been rendered complicated by a bunch of highbrow twats sitting in their air conditioned offices, will be judged by many as futile and forlorn. But don’t be fazed. This is a truth that we unfortunately can’t run away from, but it is one that we should never let define us.

When all is done and the writers have written and the readers have read, the success of this column will depend on both of us – and people releasing work worth whinging about. All in all, I pray that the gods of art keep you safe, and the producers of shitty art keep coming my way. But until then, I will keep my armchair ready for my late night rants, and the coffee pots full to keep me warm when the need comes.

Thato Rossouw is Senior Writer at ART STATE. For his idle babblings on Twitter, follow @Thato_Rossouw

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