Gouri Dange: Most art reviews leave us feeling weak & witless

26 Oct,2011

Introducing Naming no Names, an all-new mid-week column by well-known novelist, columnist and counsellor, Gouri Dange.

Dange is a brilliant writer (disclosure: MxMIndia only publishes brilliant writers!). And exceedingly funny.  But it’s not forced humour. Her simple, middle class-y view of life and everything around it will be evident from her observations of the strange and often pointless stuff we see in the media.

Without much ado, presenting Gouri Dange. The column: Naming no Names. Every Wednesday, on MxMIndia’s Journalism channel:


Most art reviews leave us feeling weak and witless


Why does one read reviews? To get a little glimpse of what to expect when you read, view, or listen to creative effort, right? Works fine with most reviewing. For instance, a music review will clearly tell you that a singer was in peak form and reminded you of his illustrious grandfather in the rendition of his Bhairavi. A book or film review will tell you what works and what doesn’t, at least for the reviewer. A dance performance will be reviewed in terms of the dancer’s grace, rhythm, expression…you get the point.


It’s the art reviews that stand quite apart, leaving most people completely flummoxed not to mention gobsmacked. Take a look. I swear I am not making any of this up – I couldn’t write like this even if there was a gun held to my head:

“For this artist of course colour is almost another type of vessel – rather than just a vehicle, it is a protective continuum for a soft and vulnerable molusk-like feel that she besets her canvasses with. The motifs of chaotic profusion resonate against the happenings of frontal development that bring functional ethos to a standstill.”


Now in this mindblowing welter of words and ideas, it may be nit-picky of me to say this, but molusk is not spelt right. But what’s a little misspelling in the midst of all this gobbledygook? I mean somebody please, please tell me what frontal development is…and what, pray what, is the functional ethos that has been brought to a standstill? And how does one beset the canvas with this so-called molusk-like feel. I mean, did this writer go to the same kind of schools and colleges that we did…or is there some secret institution that teaches you to write gibberish, especially to review art.


There’s more priceless twaddle:

“Interestingly known more for her impressionist zeal the paper works in this show reveal that the artist is busy shedding its primary historical role as a representation of the object in favour of the dynamic engagement of physical form in real space. …The whole symbolism unravels in essence as a container for visual but in-depth illumination in thought.”


When I read bits of this out to an art historian and curator friend of mine, she laughed, and then cried a little at the sorry mess that masquerades as art reviewing. She tells me that all contemporary Indian art reviews in the newspapers and magazines are full of gormless gabble of this kind.


P G Wodehouse would have had a field day if he read any of these. Remember his favourite piece of inanity: “Across the pale parabola of joy…”?


Ever the anxious language lover, not understanding what I’m reading used to eat me up. I had then taken to reading these sentences out loud over and over again, hoping to tease the inner meaning out like I do to extract a tick from inside the dog’s ear. All I got was a headache and a bit of a stammer.


Here’s some more, from another place:

“The function of colour in her palette is like a mooring of moments, of deeper shades or shifts that create a vortex of lines around the contours of a heady sprinkling of forms to the articulation of a surface and the evocation of more than a fleeting shadow. Full dense volumes in tiny notations oscillate happily with solid forms. The complex tensions between the parts and the whole that animate these spellbound paintings are all around her.”


Spellbound paintings? Again I quibble, but can we at least have the grammar go right when talking bunkum?


My question is, who is this stuff written for, in the newspapers? Must be for the aliens amongst us. I can’t see real people read this and call out to their spouse or sister: “Hey we must go see this show, it has cartloads of functional ethos and oscillating notations… come, let’s hurry there now“!


And the other thing I am just dying to know is whether reviewers who write like this, talk like this too? Meaning writing claptrap is one thing, but actually mouthing it with a straight face, can they do it? You try it – try reading that molusk excerpt out loud to someone in your home, with a straight face. Guaranteed to bring the house down.

This confirms one theory, that the word vocabulary has an Indian origin. It comes from: voh-kya-boli-rey?

Post a Comment 

11 responses to “Gouri Dange: Most art reviews leave us feeling weak & witless”

  1. Meenal Dashputre says:

    Wow, read it the second time, but enjoyed it as much as the first time.

  2. Swati says:

    Ha ha ha! I almost fell off the chair reading some of the quoted “reviews”, and I too have often wondered who writes this stuff, who wants it written, and why?

    What’s really nice about this piece is that through all the humour, the essential questions about this kind of journalism/art criticism stand sharp and clear.

    Please have more such writing on mxmindia!

  3. Anshu Dorairaj says:

    loving it…soooo true…..

  4. Sue says:

    LOL Gouri, you totally took this over the pale parabola of joy.

  5. dipali taneja says:

    Laughed my head off at this! You are, as ever, in great form, Gouri!

  6. ReignForrest says:

    Hear, hear!

    Always been meaning to respond to the chafing I’ve felt at the hands — fingers — of art critics who write such gobbledigook, but this column does it fabulously! I hope, Gouri Dange, that you strafe all pseudo- and hypo- folks around us in your new column.

    Commenters (Sandhya, Natasha, et al.) — Yes, it’s about lousy (or at least non-standard) English and poor thinking, But, IMO, what Gouri is getting at is the hypocrisy of it all as well. Admittedly, art is hard to comment on — as is Hindustani music. Even with deep insight AND great language articulation, it’s hard. But the solution to this conundrum should not lie in making up inanely flowery metaphors.

  7. Sandhya Bordewekar Gajjar says:

    It is poor knowledge of English, poorer understanding of how communication works, and the poorest reading of art that leads to art ‘critics’ writing like this. I have been writing on art for three decades now and I blame not the ‘critics’ (anyone can pose as one)but the publications and their editors who accept this kind of garbage and allow it to be printed who really are to blame.

  8. Sanjeev Dange says:

    My cousin Nandu (at Roopali) once was describing how the miners worked and how dangerous it was and he said stuff like “They go into the bowels of the earth……” That was a good comparison, but this stuff about artist reviews which are as abstract or exceedingly as the paintings themselves.

  9. Dhruvkazi says:

    Outrageously funny! Gouri at her best.

  10. Dr Tarun says:

    loved this piece, Gouri; and i always thought there was something wrong with me for not being able to comprehend the kind of reviews you have described.

  11. natasha says:

    I once had a boss who actually asked me, “and may I enquire of you the factors that led you to take this decision to part ways?” when all he needed to say was “why are you quitting?”
    When I finished laughing, I nearly told him it was because I just couldn’t deal with him talking like his great grandfather twice removed had been taught to write.