Critics, Understood at Last

In more proof that Europe is way out ahead of America, now comes news that the E.U. has passed a law to keep reviews from being misquoted by cultural promoters.

As the London Independent and The New York Times have reported, the new Unfair Commercial Practices Directive bars advertisers from taking critics’ words out of context or otherwise manipulating reviews in such a way that “deceives or is likely to deceive the consumer.” Violators will be prosecuted by the ominous sounding Office of Fair Trading.

For those of us in the visual art world, this news raises some disquieting questions. First, how would promoters shrink sentences that run, on industry average, four to seven lines of text, into their meager advertisement space? Second, how would these unscrupulous arts advertisers manipulate the meaning of critical utterances, when those utterances themselves are so often nonsensical and, as surveys have documented, devoid of clear judgments?

Third, and perhaps most alarming, will visual arts presenters, having run out of ideas, ever decide to use snippets of criticism to promote their artists and exhibitions? In the theater, where critics still count, this is standard practice. Alas, few in the art world seem to feel that criticism is important enough to bother with quoting or misquoting critics in their advertisements.

What’s next for Europe? Legislation mandating criticism that consumers can understand?

4 thoughts on “Critics, Understood at Last

  1. I am wondering if this applies to film and literature critique too? Quotations are used widely for promotional reasons. I would actually miss the short comments and notes on the movie posters or on the back of a book. But I do understand the problem of the change of context. When it comes to art, I cannot really say that I can recall having seen such use of a critic’s writing, apart from captions from previous reviews or articles regarding an artist reproduced in gallery press releases. If we take this idea further, a journalist could be fined for publishing incomplete statements by the subject of an interview…

  2. Actually, Jan, what you’re proposing would not be taking this one step further, but rather two steps in the opposite direction. Because while the new EU law is supposed to guarantee that the work of critics is not instrumentalized by promoters, what you’re proposing undercuts the work of the critic. (Or rather the journalist, technically speaking, because critics don’t really do interviews as part of their work normally.)

    I see your point, which is that often subjects feel like their ideas have been rendered totally reductive, all the subtlety and context leached out in order to make a good quote. But I happen to think that’s just part of the risk you enter into when you do an interview. You can mitigate that risk my staying on message, speaking coherently, and understanding precisely what sort of article is being done and what reasonable expectations. You can have of the quotes within it.

    In the end a journalist, though, is not supposed to serve as a stenographer. Anyway, there’s a format for presenting your quotes in their entirety. It’s called a press release.

  3. Actually I think we are making more of this than necessary. My reading of the wording is that it is simply meant to catch misrepresentation of the review; not to restrict the way comments are edited or used in general. So if a reviewer says something like “this is far from being a wonderful show” and the quote in the publicity blurb becomes “wonderful show” that would be misrepresenting the reviewer’s intent and thus caught by the new EU rule.

    Not that I am a big supporter of more EU rules on anything…

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