Sacha Craddock:'I had a level of guilt about writing about work as opposed to making it'

Sacha Craddock is a London-based art critic, curator, writer & teacher. She started her career writing at the Guardian and the Times. She has been Chair of the Board of New Contemporaries and of its selection process since 1996. She has also been a judge for many well-known art competitions, including the Turner Prize and the John Moores Painting Prize.


Can you tell you us a bit about what made you choose a career as a critic, writer and curator and how you found your own unique voice in the art world?

I did not choose to be a critic; all decisions in my life have been kind of sideways. I studied painting at St Martins and then Chelsea and soon after was asked to write for the Guardian. I had never really written anything except a letter to my sister. So, in a way, I had a level of guilt about writing about work as opposed to making it. In fact, later on when I moved from the Guardian to the Times I again felt guilty because I would be working for Murdoch, so in a way everything is sideways. My guilt started when I decided I could go to art school at the end of the 70s and felt already I was betraying the struggle, housing, legal, trade union work. Young people who feel pressure to follow a life or game plan are perhaps at a disadvantage. If I have a unique voice it is because I have not been orthodox in my career or even see it as a career.


How do you think the art world has changed in the past ten years or so and how have you reacted to these changes?

I am not sure about the last 10 years but I am sure about the last 30, the change has been seismic. The growth of the market, the lack of state support for the arts and changes in accessibility of arts education. I have reacted to these changes by appearing somewhat old fashioned at times and by insisting that we need to defend the right to make work about whatever we wish. Fighting a kind of creeping moralism and academic professionalization to defend the practice itself.


I was looking at your drawings on Instagram, and wondered why it is important to you to also maintain your own art practice?

Many Art critics especially tend not to continue to produce art once they have chosen to focus on writing about it. Art critics come from two sources generally, some have studied art history and some have been trained as practicing artists. Actually, it is incredibly hard to make art and write about it at the same time, to a substantial and decent level. So, my work is in a way a side-line. My understanding of art comes from making it and I apply exactly the same principles in terms of expectation and the combination of risk and knowledge.


I am always puzzled as to why so many galleries and curators often produce lengthy press releases and artists statements that are almost impenetrable, to the point of being meaningless. I would much rather hear the basic story behind the art and the artist, and be intrigued, but then allow the art to speak for itself. Am I too much of a philistine, or do you think there is a tendency to use too much jargon in this context…

I feel that this country particularly is blighted with an affliction, the affliction is guilt about art itself. As a result, everyone feels like they always have to justify everything ever so the notion of explanation or justification makes a whole other language.


How do you think Brexit will affect the art world, if at all?

At one end, it will probably affect movement of artists and students between Britain and Europe which is really sad. At the other end, London will no longer be seen as a financial centre, somewhat of a staging post for Europe. Also, Brexit does not necessarily mean more movement from people outside Europe, that has always been restricted and will continue to be so.


What are the shows or/and artists that have impressed you lately?

Aftermath Tate Britain

Cezanne’s Portraits at NPG

Marcus Lupertz Tent Paintings from the 60s at Michael Werner Gallery

Personal Feeling is the Main Thing Chantal Joffe at The Lowry

Wolfgang Tillmans at Tate Modern

Rodin at the British Museum

Exhibition about Egyptian Surrealism at Reina Sofia

Prunella Clough [anywhere]

Performance Presentation by Laura Grace Ford at Somerset House

Dale Lewis at Edel Assanti.


What advice would you give artists who are starting in their career?

Burn the bridge of rationale, don’t make work for other people, be in love with your subject, be ambitious formally, do not think that your spoken narrative needs to match your artwork and read fiction.


What do you think the role of the art critic is in 2018?

It’s changed immensely. The role of the newspaper critic has almost gone. There is no criticism. A tremendous amount online means there is no notion of authority which is both good and bad. A ‘popularist’ dislike of the expert. Obviously, this represents a move from a few, mainly white men, telling you what to think in the newspaper, but, the role of the critic has become more one of the academic.


What is the best and worst thing about being a critic?

Well I don’t see myself just as a critic because I also curate, teach and sit on many unpaid committees advising, supporting and selecting work and ideas for organisations and trusts. So, a critic is no longer someone just being a critic on their own, and you have to do many things to survive.


Is there was one artwork you could own, what would it be and why?

If it is something I love I hope I will have seen it in a public collection. My taste is varied to say the least and there are many things I adore. At the moment, I would be caught between one of the Cezanne’s in the Courtauld, a Léger purist painting or a late Titian.


What are your current projects?

This minute I have just finished writing about Jose Dávila’s recent sculpture for an exhibition in Madrid, planning two or three exhibitions, continuing with the Spectrum Art Prize and fretting over selectors for New Contemporaries.


More information about Sacha can be found on her website