AAMR Day 2: Keynote by Tesuya Ozaki (Summary)

For Whom and For What To Write?

LASALLE College of the Arts, F309
25 May 2019, 10:00am

In the keynote For Whom and For What To Write?, Tetsuya Ozaki (Japan) shared his views on the role of arts writing, which were largely inspired by his interactions with the contemporary art world. From his reading of contemporary arts criticism, Ozaki opined that ballooning art markets as well as the widespread use of the Internet and social networking services have brought about the decline of artistic discourse and its influences.

In Ozaki’s worldview, artistic discourse can be broadly categorised into art history, art theory, criticism, review and journalism. He made the following distinctions between the five categories:

Type of discourse




Art history

Works & theory (past)

Specialists & public

Research and positioning works

Art theory

Theory (past & current)

Specialists & public

Interpretation & understanding of works


Works (past & current)

Artists (current & future)

Encouraging and inspiring artists for creation


Works (current)

Spectators (current)

Providing information and commentary on work


Works & situation (current)

Spectators/society (current)

Providing information and commentary on work & situation

Zooming into arts reviews and criticism, Ozaki used the analogy of circus-watching to differentiate between both modes of discourse. On the one hand, reviewers were likened to enthusiastic circus guides who deliberately write about the circus in an easy-to-follow and entertaining manner, so as to attract more visitors to the show. On the other hand, critics were likened to connoisseurs who prioritise giving impartial appraisals of the animals’ performance during the circus – sometimes at the risk of straining relations between the two. In light of these differences, Ozaki stressed that whatever the chosen mode of discourse, what was ultimately of utmost importance was to write in a way that helps artists think about how they can make better work.  

Thereafter, Ozaki highlighted the importance of knowledge of art theory. Citing Boris Groys’ Under the Gaze of Theory, Ozaki argued that theories liberate artists from having their art being perceived as mere local curiosities by providing others with a universally understandable explanation to what the former’s art is about. However, he also conceded that contemporary art theory was largely Western-centric in influence, and that more should be done to thrust non-Western theorists into the spotlight.

Following Jacques Ranciere’s observation that even distant spectators are also “active interpreters of the spectacle offered to them”, Ozaki surmised that any piece of art can ever be truly ‘complete’ only after it is appreciated by a viewer after its creation. On that note, Ozaki argued that the lines between artists, spectators and critics had become blurred, and proposed an integrated paradigm for arts discourse in general:

Type of discourse




Artistic discourse in general

Works, theory, situation (past & present)

Artists (current & future)

Encouraging & inspiring artists for creation