Get to know - Tabish Khan, the London Art Critic
What led you to become a visual arts editor and art critic?
While commuting to an office job I’d spot advertisements on the London Underground for major exhibitions and this got me interested as I had no knowledge of art. I visited a few and found it eye-opening and exciting.
After a few months a cousin recommended I write about art and I came across Londonist, I pitched myself to them and now I’m their visual arts editor. My reviews for Londonist now get mentioned on those same posters on the Underground that were my original inspiration, and it’s very rewarding to see my story come full circle.
What are some of the most important elements you look for when visiting/reviewing an exhibition? You recently reviewed the Royal Academy exhibition “Loneliness of the Soul”, which featured works by Tracy Emin and Edvard Munch. Do you believe the recent events
surrounding the pandemic could give rise to a period in art, which will be remembered?
I need to balance it between public interest, what my readers want to hear about, with what I think is worth seeing. So big blockbuster shows like Emin/Munch will definitely be featured but I also want to highlight some of the smaller shows that my readers may not know about but would find engaging.
Emin/Munch also has the added bonus of being very relevant to what we’re all feeling right now which makes it a must write review for me as it’s important that art remains relevant to wider society.
The UK is a highly multi cultural and diverse country. In your experience of the art world, is this fairly represented?
It’s getting more diverse over time but there’s still a long way to go. Art has a long history of being seen as a middle class pursuit and the fact that pay at the entry level, both for artists and other careers in the arts, is so poor means it remains a largely middle class.
The fact that in British society the middle classes are largely white means diversity will always be an issue in art as long as entry level jobs pay poorly or not at all - the amount of unpaid internships in art is horrifying.
In your bio, you state that you are involved as a trustee in ArtCan, an artist-led, non profit organisation which aims to promote “fair payment of artists”. Could you tell us why this is absolutely timely and necessary in Britain?
It’s hard being an artist and allowing them to club together to support each other both financially and non-financially allows artists to succeed in a world where it often feels like artists are constantly struggling uphill. I’m very proud to be a trustee of an organisation that supports artists and helps them succeed in their practice.
How can one become involved with ArtCan?
It’s currently open for new artist applications via the website artcan.org.uk and it’s always great to welcome new artists to the ArtCan family. ArtCan continues to grow and new members always bring new skills, new energy and importantly new art to the collective. Non-artists can support ArtCan by visiting our exhibitions and buying works where all proceeds go to the artist. It’s important to note that there’s no membership fee for joining ArtCan either.
We love your work and highly appreciate your devotion to the arts. What is your proudest achievement?
Thank you. As a writer I rarely get feedback from those who read my articles so it’s always wonderful when people tell me they visited a show because of my writing or an article helped an artist get a commission or increase visitors to their show. As both those examples align with my ethos of wanting to make art accessible and to help artists succeed.
What advice would you have towards young artists or young people aiming to engage in the arts in our times?
It’s important to build genuine connections with others in art and even in lockdown you can reach out to people through online calls and events without needing to be in a cultural hub like London. It is a very competitive world, more so due to the pandemic, and those who are able to keep applying, stay positive and remain passionate about art in the face of rejection are the ones likely to succeed. Getting used to rejection and being able to move on is an important skill to master, though it’s a lot easier said than done.