Monday, August 31, 2009

Is It Argue-worthy? Open Thread

Quick Cliche Monday Post:

They say the opposite of love isn't hate. The opposite of love is ambivalence indifference. You actually have to care a lot about something to hate it. And as Wilde would note, "The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about."

With that sentiment firmly established, in the dusty corners of my mind, anyway, the following quote seemed to make an odd sort of sense:

From ARTNews Retrospective:
25 Years Ago
What are the arguments about right now? There are arguments about whether it is still OK to paint, to make painted images. There are arguments about the possibility of feeling. There are arguments about what images mean. . . . There are arguments about what artists do, about what relationship they have to the works they make. . . . Arguing about art—you hear it, read it—is very of the moment. To decide if certain art is of the moment—or if a certain show is of the moment—decide if it is worth arguing about.
—“Your Show of Shows,” by Gerald Marzorati, September 1984
As much as artists hate it when someone hates their work, clearly there's something to it for anyone to even care that much, no?

Consider this an open thread on the potential value of harsh criticism.

Labels: art criticism


Anonymous Ian Aleksander Adams said...

What if work is hated because it's boring?

I guess they probably have anger management issues, but you probably know what I mean.

I don't get mad or upset if something is totally uninspired, but I do feel a little sad, a little dead inside. :(

8/31/2009 09:16:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

What if work is hated because it's boring?

Why give it another thought, then? Why not just move on?

8/31/2009 09:36:00 AM  
Anonymous Greg said...

From the artist's point of view, the hatred might have more to do with the fact that the boring work is being shown and yours isn't...

8/31/2009 09:56:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Jealousy isn't valid criticism.

8/31/2009 10:16:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

Well, certainly the greatest artwork of the 20th century, Duchamp's Fountain may also be the most hated.

All that says is that while people say they don't know what art is, they know what it isn't.

8/31/2009 10:34:00 AM  
Blogger Kate said...

The tricky part is putting your ego aside to step back and take in the criticism, deciding whether it is going to be helpful/useful to you in your practice moving forward.

Even the most well-intentioned critics have their own biases and agendas, sometimes where they are coming from is so far off the course you are on that the criticism really does not help you... you are simply in different art camps.

It is not just a cliché... if you are doing something important, there are always people who are going to hate it, and it can be an indicator that you are on the right track. I'm not just talking about art history, where this has been proven time and time again, but consider someone like Liza Lou, who decided that beads were the way to go after she got so much flack for them in school.

8/31/2009 10:57:00 AM  
Blogger Stefano Pasquini said...

I love it when people hate my shows. Unfortunately, one is more often met with indifference...

8/31/2009 11:03:00 AM  
Anonymous lori said...

i think the most telling about that quote is that it is from 25 years ago. now if you critique art, you're just one of the many who has lessened the value of words.

look at online, anyone can go off on any subject, we are completely immune to it, and don't give credence to the words as having meaning beyond the person that is using them.

applied to art, it's just another asshole with an opinion. art criticism used to mean more then a flamer going off on can be a critic. therefore, it has no value...

8/31/2009 11:08:00 AM  
Blogger C. L. DeMedeiros said...

is hard to imagine dusty corners of your mind.

The very fist time that somebody acknowledge my work, was to tell me:
"what are you doing? your stuff is look like a pile of shit".
Looking way back, took me a week to fire back. I'm no masochist to like somebody to criticize me so rough. But eventually. She find out the whole thing was about pile of sheet.

When English is not your first language you can get lost in translation.
The fact that somebody say whatever means you doing something that causes some kind feeling.

Art is so ephemeral, but 25 years ago seams like today in Gerald Marzorati note.


8/31/2009 11:12:00 AM  
Anonymous sharonA said...

I love that both you and Joanne Mattera are discussing criticism this morning!

I don't really know what place harsh criticism has in art today. I do know that it would be sad to see criticism disappear entirely but I'd prefer to see it develop into something more constructive, I suppose? There is such an abundance of art and culture has developed so many different tastes independently it doesn't seem viable to try to claim something as being or not being art when there are so many other interesting things to talk about. A lot of energy is wasted in a vehement response - even though I find those responses interesting they aren't always productive because the angry person has more than likely made up their mind and can't be swayed. And as for the critics themselves, there are always going to be preferences and opinions. I have them too, so I can't fault them for it.

I feel like an artist's first imperative - well at least mine - is to not concern themselves with opinions. You're either making art for yourself and your own reasons or purpose, or you're doing it for others. One's reaction to criticism directly impacts the work, and artists have to decide what they want from it. Constructive discussions about art, even from a less favourable review, are always interesting and informative as the artist. I have to stay focussed, and therefore anything else (destructive, irrational, irrelevant) holds much less importance.

8/31/2009 11:19:00 AM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

taste for birdseeds can be acquired apparently.

I know I acquired the taste for noise in music - at three I preferred melodic music. Am I more sophisticated now that I can appreciate atonal music? Is that better? For what?

Clearly painting will never die - there is no tactile medium of its sort to replace it with. Paint records motion and has chaotic properties. In addition there is a quality to painting that other mediums do not replicate. Oil painting is much better qualitatively than acrylic and is also more toxic.

Jealousy is a great motivator. I believe many people like to think of critics as "failed" artists in some sense - thought what constitutes failure? Inertia? Over-thinking everything? Laziness? Lack of imagination? Lack of engagement with the oceanic consciousness? Nullified ESP skills?
Lack of inspiration? No human emotion? Not enough ego? Lack of hubris?

Barnett Newman was not a failed painter - and he was a critic. Harsh criticism is often discounted or rationalized away "just jealous" or "rabidly antisemitic" or "phillisitinism" or "antintellectual" - whatever.

What do our enemies tell us about ourselves? Is love close to hate? How close? Can god lift himself? How much weight do you pull? Why?

What motivates you? What womb do you kick your tiny brain against?

Much of my critical stance is based on philistinism and contrariness. But there is plenty of hippocracy out there, plenty of pretention, so I don't fear the reaper.

Many academics feared or still fear the market system as soulless, alienation of labor, causing systematized robotic group-think. This is a valid criticsm of the overprofessionalized part of the art world.

On the other hand, the market has benefits - freeing up time to work, allowing seed money for idiosyncratic projects (district9 instead of just a Halo drama), heating up scenes that often act as petrie dishes for more interesting work later.

But what do critics do exactly? I think often they just provide a locus for what everybody is already thinking - the critic is really a reporter in a robe.

But what is harsh? Artists are probably ten times more critical of their own work than any critic without a blood relation could ever be.

If not, then you are not a true tortured artist. Please turn in your hair shirt at the union hall now.

Criticism provides direction. Harsh criticism just sucks the sugar off the pill.

8/31/2009 12:00:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

The problem with criticism is that today it is all about intellectual fashion. There is nothing inherently wrong with this except that it can draw conclusions which turn out to be false when looked at from a distance.

Read any magazine criticism from 30-40 years ago. What sounded good then, in the sense that it made cents, looks dubious today.

The difference between positive and harsh criticism is that the harsh criticism sticks in your craw longer. Positive criticism just goes to your head and that goes for critics too.

8/31/2009 12:05:00 PM  
Blogger Joanne Mattera said...

I love that Ed and I are thinking alike this morning. (Now if he happens to be wearing a t-shirt from the 1995 New York Lesbian and Gay Film Festival, as I am this morning, then I'll know it's more than something in the air. Perhaps our thought plasma has merged somewhere in the space time continuum.)

I think it's important to note when the harsh criticism takes place. An emerging artist could be crushed. A mid-career artist with a first review could be crushed. But if an artist has a reasonably established career with a history of solo exhibitions and good reviews, then sooner or later a stinker will be lobbed.

8/31/2009 12:18:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Harsh criticism can lay bare a faulty structure. We are all capable of duping ourselves from time to time. It can also expose a lie - like the recent hot photographer who was finally, unequivocally caught digitally manipulating images after having built a reputation partly by denying he ever did that.

The difficulty is knowing whose judgment to trust. Less experienced artists are usually less discerning this way - thinking that anyone who proclaims themselves to be an authority is, in fact, one.


8/31/2009 02:27:00 PM  
Blogger kalm james said...

“TARBABY ALERT” (attracting posters like bugs to fly-paper.) I contend that one of the main functions of art is to give people something to bitch about. It’s our God given right to whine and moan about stuff we don’t get, or that goes against our world view or aesthetics. So long as the issues aren’t a personal attack, and they’re articulately expressed, critics shouldn’t pull their punches because they’re afraid an artist is too “fragile”. This just deprives a generation of artists the opportunity to toughen up. A good review might be okay, a bad review is still good (if they spell your name right) the worst is no review.

Nobody is stopping anyone from critiquing the critics, anyone who writes criticism has got to accept some blowback. A well stated argument takes a lot of energy and engagement.

8/31/2009 02:38:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Nobody is stopping anyone from critiquing the critics


Nobody but that little voice inside an artist's head saying that if you do you'll either look like a sore loser or risk pissing them off so much they'll never consider reviewing you again.

8/31/2009 02:42:00 PM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

Risk pissing off a critic? More people should do that.

8/31/2009 03:03:00 PM  
Anonymous david carson said...

I agree with "Kalm James" on this one Edward. Critics are taken to task - even more so now with the technical means to do so (blogs, comments, forums, etc). Just witness the Karen Archey article, "A Brief History of Combining Crap with Crap"

she took some fire for that post - it devolved into some pretty nasty personal attacks - which was sad, but people did not shy away from their opinion.

I'm sure Loren has taken some heat for some of his James Kalm art commentary. Comes with the territory.

8/31/2009 03:32:00 PM  
Blogger Margaret PG said...

The THING: new Sculpture from LA exhibition at the Hammer a few years ago was a great show to dislike. I went with several friends -- we went through the exhibit, complained a bit, then all went through it again, but more slowly. We still didn't like the work (and there were some things we really hated) and we still hated the labels, but the exhibition gave us so much to think and talk about, I even bought the catalog.

8/31/2009 03:56:00 PM  
Blogger Dalen said...

Criticism is always much more interesting when you're not on the receiving end. I never liked it in school when I was completely satisfied with something and a studio prof would push me to change part of it. With certain profs I started intentionally leaving something a bit off so they'd have something to point out to me and leave the rest of it alone. Those who I thought were genuinely trying to help me improve (constructive criticism) I tended to listen to more. Classroom crits are beneficial (though terrifying at first and tedious later on) in helping artists form their first bit of armour.

Harsh criticism tends to direct my attention towards the source more than the target, causing me to assess the motivation, background, and possible biases of the critic.

Maybe I'm accustomed to a midwestern layer of politeness, or perhaps just used to reading articles consisting of vague art applause or promotion, but the first time I read the NY Times Arts section, I was blown away! I was riveted, and found myself wanting to see the work being criticized, to decide for myself about it.

8/31/2009 05:04:00 PM  
Blogger Donna Dodson said...

I got a negative review online last april that was part of the 'artists review artists' on Thinking about art blog- and it stung a bit but i posted a response to the review (as part of the project process) and i got alot of support from my fans online- i also sold the piece he reviewed last year. picked up 2 new commissions and i am preparing for a big show this fall. my sales this summer have been sluggish (although i've been very busy showing) and i hope it picks up this fall...

8/31/2009 05:43:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

For Best Results, Take the Sting Out of Criticism

8/31/2009 06:15:00 PM  
Blogger kalm james said...

“Nobody but that little voice inside an artist's head saying that if you do you'll either look like a sore loser or risk pissing them off so much they'll never consider reviewing you again.”

Ed, I’ve been ripped on a regular basis by some fairly influential people, and the funny thing is, though 50% might agree, the other 50% come out vocally sympathetic.

If there’s one thing I miss about the “good old days” it’s the passion. People were less concerned with careerism and more willing to put it out there, fight, struggle, piss people off. (Maybe the money has a neutering effect) Now, everyone’s so polite, so “professional” so phony. There are artists and other critics who’ve criticized and dissed me, but I’ll make it a point of going to see their shows, or read their reviews and if they’re good I’ll say so, just to catch the kids off guard. Life is too short to live in the fear of offending someone, especially a critic.

8/31/2009 06:50:00 PM  
Blogger markcreegan said...

I have found at times negative critique very transformational, often provoking a response that may mean doing more or more intensely the thing that is being criticized. That may or may not be a good thing but it is an energizing thing. Having my B.S. challenged forces me to really look at my B.S., maybe make the b.s better b.s!
All types of critical responses are good, the flip, mean ones help us confront our own prejudices, and the considered, constructive ones offer new things to explore.I know and have felt at the moment of receiving harsh criticism that a flame has been dowsed, but really sometimes it results in actually sparking the fire (apologies to my CA friends for such an untimely metaphor!)
But yes the really terrible thing is indifference, because it can (for me) result in indifference within and THAT is the killer!

8/31/2009 10:51:00 PM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

the killer ...or the horror? how about this blather from the NYT:

Bowles never seemed to mind criticism, personal or professional. “No one can ever heap enough insults on me to suit my taste,” he once said. “I think we all really thrive on hostility, because it’s the most intense kind of massage the ego can undergo. Other people’s indifference is the only horror.”

8/31/2009 11:01:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Don't you mean indifference is the opposite of love, not ambivalence?

Ambivalence implies two or more deep but conflicting emotions in response to a subject. It's been one of my favorite English words for over ten years now. Even it's root components are pretty freaking cool.

9/01/2009 12:58:00 AM  
Blogger tony said...

The toughest critic should be oneself. The criticism of others - whether positive, negative or indifferent - passes

9/01/2009 06:32:00 AM  
Blogger Mariana Soffer said...

Interestig post.
I do not think is ambibalence I think it is indiference, that is even worst because if you are ambibalent you care about it, maybe not a lot, but it does not give the same to you.

Regarding art:
The illusion (if there is one) comes, on the contrary, from the impersonality of the work. It is a principle of mine that a writer must not be his own theme. The artist in his work must be like God in his creation — invisible and all-powerful: he must be everywhere felt, but never seen.

9/01/2009 07:46:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Thanks to those who've corrected by is indifference, not ambivalence (although, I have to admit to not being so clear on the difference before it was brought up).


9/01/2009 07:54:00 AM  
Blogger Joanne Mattera said...

So one can be indifferent to ambivalence, but not ambivalent about indifference. Ah, emotion.

9/01/2009 09:21:00 AM  
Blogger David Cauchi said...

'Thanks to those who've corrected by mistake...'


And there you also have critics: what we do is never understood; only ever praised or censured.

9/01/2009 09:24:00 AM  
Blogger Brandon Juhasz said...

what's funny is that in art school getting murdered in a critique was like a rite of passage. people almost treated it like a sport. Sometimes comments are for revenge or insecurities but often I always took them, especially from people I respected, to heart. At least I thought about the comments and would choose to re-think or distill or i would dismiss. I really feel like the brutal nature of critique in art school made me a better and focused critical thinker. I also thought it was sort of a gauntlet to prepare for the "real" world of even harsher opinions and rejection.
Weird too that critic is derived from being critical, which I always thought meant good and bad, success and failures. I guess everyone just wants PR now.

9/01/2009 09:27:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

LOL...that should have, obviously, been "corrected my mistake."

9/01/2009 09:43:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Describe, analyze, interpret, judge. Those are the steps in criticism outlined by Terry Barrett. I've found them to be a useful framework, in my own thinking/writing and in my teaching.

When an artist receives criticism, the work begins to evaluate that criticism. What is the bias and/or agenda behind it? Is it based on the work itself? What if it's true?

On a side note, it's interesting to me that words are so important to search engine function/ranking. Does it lead artists to embrace their verbal self?

On a second side note, my best undergraduate non-studio course was one in Public Speaking -- the professor's emphasis was on thinking, which preceded the writing and delivery of the speech.

9/01/2009 10:12:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Where is the risk or adventure in thinking before writing or speaking? :-)

9/01/2009 10:23:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If I aint having fun and defeating that fucker in my head I won't do it. I make art for me.

9/01/2009 11:36:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hating or loving a show or artist is simply not enough. I look for a critic to have some understanding (and affection) for the media reviewed. For example, in the early 90's, Minneapolis Star/Tribune critic Mary Abbe gave an exagerated horrific descrition of Ron Athey's performance at the Walker (which she did not even attend). Poor Mary is still spewing over the top praises and ruthlessly trashing without atempting to explain the "why's" behind her "feelings".

9/02/2009 06:32:00 PM  

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