Friday, September 23, 2011

Everyone's a Critic, if Only Secretly

He didn't wince at the stench wafting out from the back of the truck he was hurling the garbage bags into, but his nose crinkled up when he turned over the first of the four large canvases piled up on the curb. He turned to his co-worker, raising his eyebrows as if to ask "What'd you think?" The impasto splotches of primary colors in the large abstraction read like some Warner Brother cartoon character exploded [;-)]. His co-worker shrugged and turned back to his plastic bags.

The first canvas sailed into the dumpster's dripping jaws.

The next large canvas had a much darker palette and directly referenced the P&D movement. "What about this one?" the first gentleman asked.

His colleague considered it longer and shrugged a bit less dismissively.

I didn't get to see he rest of curb-side crit play out--my bus was hurling toward the stop up ahead--but this short exchange stood in stark contrast for me to the Marshalls commercial we discussed a while back, where the message was that art's too hard or boring to bother with...just go shopping instead.

That commercial had sent me into a funk. It wasn't only the offensive way they dismissed the art in the staged gallery (which, before anyone who hasn't seen the commercial jumps to anti-conceptualist/anti-contemporary conclusions, was mostly your garden-variety mediocre abstractions), but also how it belittled the fun people have playing the art critic (which is what the characters were engaged in before being magically transported to the department store).

I've witnessed it in private settings again and again. Without any pressure to please some authority, anyone will voice their opinion on what's presented to them as art, and seemingly enjoy the process. I actually believe it's human nature to look for meaning or pleasure in such objects. Only when people fear they'll be looked down upon if they "get it wrong," do they shy away from sharing their honest response.

I wish I had had more time to listen to the sanitation workers critique the tossed-out paintings. The fact that they were having fun doing so is important, imho.

Labels: art viewing


Anonymous Ben Stansfield said...

It's driven me bats since art school that regular people are frozen out of the world of art, and art criticism.

Unfortunately, art school seemed to be one of the places where the elitism and jargon-infused wall gets put up.
It certainly serves some artists and art-involved people to perpetuate this attitude, but (I think) I'd be better off as a painter if more Canadians, in particular, felt comfortable going to art shows to enjoy themselves.
I always though art was about pleasure, and maybe *shudder* fun, like edward says.

9/23/2011 08:40:00 AM  
Blogger Julie Takacs said...

We do a crit of our homework in the Design class I teach at SUNY COBY. It amazes me how the process works. i have to stand up there and almost beat them down to make any comment, even on their own work, if there is ANY fear of reprisal. However, before class starts, free from judgment, these same students will get together in groups and start looking at the work and discussing it among themselves.
I don't think we can help it. It seems to be in our nature to compare, discuss, and gain consensus....or NOT! I end up presenting the experience like a discussion, instead of a "critique." Seems less forboding, and I get much better results when this process is more informal.

9/23/2011 09:55:00 AM  
Anonymous Gam said...

...I actually believe it's human nature to look for meaning or pleasure in such objects.

I'd push that thesis even further and state that art allows us to suspend our current paradigm of reality and try out another (the artworks') for a moment.

From play (where one assumes another paradigm of rules -temporarily- to learn and master skills needed to survive - even if just social interaction)

to sports,

to humour (where one revels in discovering the difference between two paradigms so to discern the fallacy of the logic of the other paradigm applied within ours - ya gotta be able to return to our paradigm {or you risk addictions and insanity and totalitarianism}

to art (where we seek intent and discern value where we haven't already - or confirmation thereof)

Mammals revel in play like humans to learn, but I think that humour, sports and arts are all further manifestations of that capacity of applying this "try out voluntarily and temporarily another paradigm of being with minimal risks" .

All these are evolutionary advantages that makes us uniquely human. The arts allows us to try out different social paradigms of value without having to first change society to know if they have value or not. Suspending this reality to discover the arts embodiment of another paradigm is a human trait, and an evolutionary advantage.

Your curb side critics were practising what makes humanity so unique, we can choose our future and present. -Simply by liking or disliking a piece of art, we can make life choices. There is a value in not liking art that is often overlooked.

9/23/2011 10:15:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I'd push that thesis even further and state that art allows us to suspend our current paradigm of reality and try out another (the artworks') for a moment."

I realy like that!

Wednesday night I was at the local Museum . You can't help but watch people look at art and see their reaction likes and dislikes.

I watched a group of very young children as they bull rushed a Josiah McElheny very large and delicate glass sculpture they immediatley started touching it the Moms freaked out security joined in and pulled them away . They were also drawn to a Massive Anish Kapoor Black plastic double Sphere.

The Teenagers in the Museum liked the video instalations, computer and Kitchy stuff.

Old Ladies liked the fashion displays.

The Hippsters liked the photography section
I am looking at a photograph and 2 strangers walk up to me and start talking to me about it.

The greatest works in Museum The Ab exers and Minimalist were largley ignored.

9/23/2011 11:44:00 AM  
Anonymous JBraun said...

don't recall where, but I read an article recently that found talking about art as therapeutic for dimensia patients. Though I don't look at "art as therapy", the study simply revealed evidence for the kinds of things mentioned in the comments above. A part of the human mind is activated and liberated in a very particular and unique way.

9/23/2011 01:03:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Young Children don't have a lot of fingerprints on their brains . I think they were instinctiveley pulled towards the Josiah McElheny sculpture. The sculpture is a God like structures from another dimension.

The Kapoor Spheres had side entry ports given the chance I am sure the children would crawled inside .I have seen this sculpture many times and always wondered about the interior more than the exterior. like a womb or a in thru the out door portal.

9/23/2011 03:46:00 PM  
Anonymous Kim Matthews said...

The rift between the uninitiated and those "in the know" doesn't exist solely because lots of artists and art historians use artspeak; it has more to do with the contempt and fear of artists and intellectuals emblematic of corporatocracy-or fascism if you want to go that far-that pervades our culture. Hurray for the sanitation workers for taking a moment in their workdays to experience art, even if it was just to haul it to the burner.

9/24/2011 03:30:00 PM  
Blogger atomicelroy said...

I think, contrary to Popular (Cultural) belief, some people's opinions don't matter. Mine included.

L'art pour l'art!

9/24/2011 08:41:00 PM  
Blogger Joseph Giannasio said...

I think something can be inferred about the fact one guy was interested, and if you reported correctly, the other guy just didn't care, it doesn't seem so much like criticism as it does seeking, looking at the paintings hoping to have that ah ha moment like so many of us going from gallery to gallery looking for that one special experience.

This also makes me want to paint some replicas of famous paintings from the last hundred years toss them on that trash heap and see how he reacts, would he recognize a Pollock, a Rothko how would he react to a Twombly, a Basquiat, a Shutz, a Currin.

9/24/2011 10:48:00 PM  
Anonymous Gam said...

I hope this isn't a divergence from the threads topic Ed & all, but merging this with Mr Jones current post on the primacy of critics, it just might be that the role of the "recognized" critic is to oblige the amateur critic in us all, to compare critiques, to necessitate in us the proof of validity of the underlying criteria of our amateur criticism.

That it isn't simply the artists intent (oh if it was only so, I would have thousands of masterworks!) ,
that it isn't simply the viewers like or dislike, (we all have our favorite color and there is no way you could convince me that I am wrong ),
that it isn't simply the historical significance of the art (not every moment in our lives are milestones - and you don't pass those milestones without living equally the mundane moments of life )

maybe the role of the critic is to offer a "contrary" criticism to our own critic, so that we can re-evaluate the way we do our own critic. IE the "recognized" critic doesn't replace our necessity to experience and appropriate that art viewing experience (the amateur's critique) but obliges us to be aware of how we are appropriating that experience by offering a unique critic to juxtapose our own critic to. So in a way, the recognized critic is teaching us how to critic, not ao much obliging us to agree with their critic, but asking us to engage on the same level as them)

Maybe that's also what art does on the level of our own paradigm of being. Asking us to examine our own presumptions and grasp of the world by offering and embodying another paradigm of being to juxtapose with our own.

9/25/2011 08:04:00 AM  

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