Hrag Vartanian knows when many people think about art critics, their frame of reference doesn’t stretch far beyond Pixar’s “Ratatouille.”
“You know the food critic in it, Anton Ego?” he said. “People still think that’s what critics are; that we are sitting here pontificating from on high in these absolutist kind of ways, and that’s what I have to combat with what I do.”
Vartanian will be speaking at 7 p.m. Tuesday, July 9 in the Hultquist Center, as part of the Visual Arts Lecture Series. Born in Syria and raised in Toronto, he is a critic, curator, artist and photographer as well as the editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic, an online arts magazine based in Brooklyn. This summer Vartanian is the critic-in-residence at the School of Art, where he is teaching an arts writing program for the students and emerging artists.
In his lecture, Vartanian hopes to clear up some misconceptions surrounding the field of arts criticism.
“I think people are often surprised (by) what an art critic does,” he said. “Are we journalists? Are we not journalists? How do we function? What’s our role?”
He said that he and critics like him are “trying to expand the conversation so that people feel more engaged.”
“We’re trying to make the art world and art more important and central and bigger, not smaller and more specialized,” he said.
He will also talk about the current realities and challenges of writing about art, such as internet memes, social media and online harassment.
“It’s a different environment from what it may have been 30 years ago, in terms of the way we engage, who our publics are and how we interact with them,” Vartanian said.
In his arts writing program, he works with students and emerging artists to help them develop the language to describe their artistic practices. He said writing is just another tool that can help them navigate the art world.
“I try to impress on them the fact that there are limitations for artists who cannot talk about their own work,” he said, “because no one is ever going to be an advocate for your work quite like you are.”
He said that writing about art in a clear and accessible way helps remove a barrier to entry for many audiences.