Roberta Smith on the Venice Biennial and her en-masse art criticism online experiment Everyone’s a Critic:

The plan was that while making the rounds in Venice I would select individual works of art and write a brief conversational introduction to each that would conclude with a few questions. These would be put online, where readers could weigh in with responses of enforced brevity — no more than six words. They could do this by simply clicking on words in my review or by using their own. What words of mine they chose would be highlighted in my review and also assembled in a cloud, in order of frequency of use.

The artworks I chose were those that I had strong (not necessarily positive) reactions to and thought people would find engaging. I also tried to pick works that could be conveyed in a picture or two.

I had no idea what to expect. What I’m getting is confirmation that, indeed, everyone is a critic, and that sometimes nothing lends an opinion punch like extreme compression. Reader reactions range from dreamy haikulike word chains to blunt endorsements or dismissals to complaints. One reader characterized “Imposition Symphony,” Stelios Faitakis’s Byzantine-style mural, as “Beautiful, real art for a change.” Another saw it as “Gorgeous, big-deal, leaves-me-cold art.”



In addition to opinions and free associations evoked by the art, language itself is in play. Readers are not just reacting to the art; their word choices also comment on the usefulness of mine. There were startling deletions (at least from a writer’s point of view), as when one reader extracted “smashed-together sensationalism” from my introduction of Adel Abdessemed’s “Taxidermy,” by eliminating the 16 intervening words. Is everyone also an editor?

I especially love the take downs & stream-of-consciounessness responses i.e. “Oh there are my primed canvases”. Wondrous.