I do not have many friends who enjoy going to see art and discussing it beyond what they like or don't like. (For most of the people I know, even that is a stretch.) I enjoy looking at art and talking about it, so it is nice to know there are others out there somewhere. Even the artists that I know more often seem to focus on their process and what they are trying to accomplish with it, than looking at art within a wider cultural context. That is why I so appreciated Christina Schmid's talk and her clarity on the value of the independent discipline of art criticism. I was interested in learning about the world of art writing, hearing about the different forms it can take and what is involved in each. Basically I liked learning about how that business works.
During the question and answer when an audience member suggested that art criticism is condescending to artists, I wanted to jump in and start arguing as well. To me it seemed like an undeveloped viewpoint, one that didn't have a full understanding of what good art writing is about. Why would discussing someone's art from a full range of perspectives be condescending? Thoughtful writing about art can take an individual experience and put it into wider context, or share that experience with others who were not there, or relate one experience to another to embrace a greater meaning or deeper understanding of them. Frankly, I was perplexed by the audience member's argument.
I think Christina's point that sometimes artists are not the best spokesperson for their art is very true. I know that even in the lowly art school critique, there have been many times that an instructor or classmate has noticed something in my work or that of another student that I had not clued into at all, but brought me new perspective and appreciation to what had been undertaken. Not only that, but often it inspired me to begin exploring that idea more consciously. I do think (as I discussed in a previous post) that it is important for an artist to be able to articulate what her goal is, what ideas she is working with and the process she is working through to try to express them, but writing about art, your own or others' work, or the common threads and evolution of contemporary work, is a completely different discipline and skill set, one that, in my view, artists should embrace and participate with. As Christina said, it is a conversation. It seems so few people want to engage in true conversation these days. Instead so many people simply want to make declarations.
When artists put their work out there, it seems to me that they are inherently inviting engagement - conversations - on any number of levels. Therein lies the gift. What else is the point, except perhaps ego? It is not just what one creates, but how it is received by the viewer. I don't think as an artist one should try to control that conversation. Why would one want to silence that voice?
April 5, 2013