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Out Of The Mouths Of Babes: Why Kids Make Good Critics

Illustration for article titled Out Of The Mouths Of Babes: Why Kids Make Good Critics

"What with the blood-like floor and the heaps of ash-coloured concrete intestines, these works were forcing me to think about bodies and new life, and even death," writes Isabella Welch of artist Anish Kapoor. Welch is 10 years old.


In December, Jenna discussed the vitriol being spewed at Tavi Gevinson, the 13-year-old wunderkind behind fashion blog Style Rookie, by older members of the fashion community. Gevinson is viewed by some as just a novelty, good for a kid (Oscar Wilde once wrote: "the public is wonderfully tolerant. It forgives everything except genius," which is especially true for brilliant children). But as both Gevinson and the Guardian's young art critic Isabella Welch both show, sometimes kids can make the best critics.


Welch was the youngest finalist in the young art critic contest, and also the winner of their top award. She has been given a chance to write for the Guardian, reviewing the Anish Kapoor exhibit at the Royal Academy in London. Many readers will find that her review is interesting, funny, and insightful despite her age, but I wonder whether the value of her observations comes from her youth. Of her trip to the museum, she writes:

Inside the gallery, the first thing we saw was a variety of brightly coloured, powdery sculptures, coloured red, yellow and pitch-black, protruding through the walls and the floor. Spiky, smooth, wavy or curved, the sculptures took on very different shapes when looked at from different angles. The colours were simple, but as bright as colours can possibly be. Adrian said they were so pretty you wanted to reach out and touch them. At that moment, a gallery worker with a feather-duster in her hand gave us a glare of very strong disapproval.

She finishes her brief review with a sharp insight into Kapoor's work:

The idea of birth creeps me out. I think it might be the same for Anish Kapoor. The shapes of many of the ­mirrored sculptures were wonderful. But I preferred the ones that made me feel a bit scared. Feeling unsettled can be beautiful, too.


While much of her writing doesn't read like it's necessarily written by a 10-year-old, some of it does. And, in a way, that is where it gets good. She is able to relay, in the simplest terms, exactly what she likes and dislikes about a piece. She sees the things around her, and responds to it without needing to constantly compare. Too frequently, art criticism - and fashion writing - falls back on simply drawing lines between artists, dropping names and citing "influences." This is not without value, but in skipping that step entirely, Welch gives a real sense of what Kapoor's work actually shows, and what feelings his sculptures evoke. Like some of Gevinson's detractors, I'm sick of precocious children being promoted for no other reason than their novelty status. But neither Welch nor Gevinson strike me as novelties. They are intelligent, thoughtful young women who are able to pick up on things that adults often miss. Not all kids should be critics, but the select few who write like Welch can serve as a reminder that the best criticism comes from a visceral reaction to all we see.

Our Guardian Young Critic Reviews Anish Kapoor [The Guardian]

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The best criticism does come from a visceral reaction, but it also includes an understanding of how the work relates to other work both past and present, the site, culture in general, etc. While this girl seems to be an excellent writer and her piece is interesting and moving, I don't know that it's a review per se. A review should be more than synopsis and personal reaction.

I understand that people have a hard time with "art talk" and comparisons, I really do. But I fight every day to assert my field's legitimacy and implying that a ten year old critic is just as good, if not better, than the thoughtful, dedicated adults who make up the field seems like yet another challenge to the seriousness and value of the arts.