The Lay Critique is a term used often within the arts, and other disciplines such as The Humanities and Theology, to denote an uninformed opinion that is based either upon partial understanding, minimal understanding or a total reluctance to understand the context of the subject under discussion. The term is often used as a snub to irrelevant interference in a debate, the cloaked equivalent of saying ‘you are talking a load of old bollox’. Which is ironic, as in most contexts using the term itself partakes of the lay critique. The lay critique however is nearly always of value to any given discipline as it can identify areas in which the discipline has become opaque to the laity. Careful consideration of a lay critique offered can suggest strategies for popularising a subject, or indeed making a subject even more arcane.
Common examples of the lay critique in the context of the visual arts
A monkey could have done a better painting than that!
You can’t call a pile of bricks sculpture!
If skilful workmanship is a significant factor in the making of an artwork, then its opposite must also be significant. This nuance has obviously been picked up by the critic, they are just not equipped with the specialist knowledge regarding appropriate form to be able to read the work any further.
The case of Carl Andre’s bricks, which has to rate as the number one target of the lay critique, is a good illustration. The work was conceived and produced to address the issues of value, craft and expectation amongst the art world, you could say that he was asking the question ‘Can you call a pile of bricks sculpture?’ Since then the answer has been explored in minute depth, but the lay critique is still stumbling over the question.
Although professionals often consider lay critique to be an attack, it isn’t in itself anything more than a demonstration of ignorance. The professionals fear of attack is a sign that they have a choice, to invite the critic into the subject and inform them, or to protect their sacred subject from the grubby hands of the plebs.
I know what I like when I see it, and that ain’t it.