Monday, September 20, 2010
Tis the Season: the juror vs the critic
I've a lot of experience critiqueing (mainly in my online classes) and some (limited) experience as a juror and I began to wonder about the role of the juror vs the role of the art critic. Too often when faced with the yes/no response from a juror we tend to think of the juror as a critic…but there are actually many differences between the two. The juror has only the y/n binary response sorting the quilts presented into two (metaphorical!) piles only...also we never know why one quilt was chosen, another rejected. Whereas the critic has a much broader role which may or may not (according to the critic, they vary) include indicating whether or not they think the art is “good” or “bad”. Unfortunately, there are many jurors but few critics in the art quilting world.
Critical reviews are valuable to both the general public and the particular artist. although some artists choose to disregard (or consider invalid) a poor review, in fact, a thoughtfully written review, can help the artist gain insight into their own work, and enable them to see it in both a wider historical and geographical/cultural view. It’s hard to step back from an individual piece and see how it fits in with both one’s own body of work, and that of work being produced by other artists.
One of the goals of art criticism is to introduce the work to a wider audience – not just the art going intelligentsia, or the magazine-buying quilter, but everyone – all classes, ages, occupations and levels of society. A lot of people out there still think of quilting as a bedding medium, not an art medium – they are truly surprised when it’s suggested that a quilt can hang on a wall! An art critic would act as a public educator: art can be paint on canvas, clay formed into vessels, glass hanging in light, fiber on a wall. I met a well educated woman just yesterday who told me that quilting was a lost art because nobody hand quilted anymore!
Today there are many journals of art criticism offering a wide variety of reviews about art from many different angles. We can learn so much about ourselves as well as increasing our art knowledge from looking at art, examining our reaction to it, and reading about the critic’s (hopefully more broadly educated) reaction. I enjoy reading the short critical reviews in magazines like Art in America, for example. Some writers focus on describing the work – perhaps in ways I had seen, or perhaps not. Others compare the work to other artists..which can lead one to follow a trail that broadens and has many side trails! Some offer value judgments with which one might agree or disagree – but all the reviews make you spend more time thinking about the art.
Most critics feel that the phrase “art should speak for itself” is a cliche. They suggest that art is strongest when it forces the viewer to engage with the artist. The work should entice one into conversation, but not be a direct obvious advertising-like statement that leads one to put up the shutters, rather than peer in through the window! (o yes the glory of the closely stitched mixed metaphor!) Stay tuned!!! I don't want to be hit in the face with the obviousness of your image, I want to be intrigued enough to want to stay and figure out what is going on for myself…intrigue me, entice me, question me and pull me in…
A critic, of course, may have his/her own agenda. Clement Greenberg was famous for his desire to drive a revolution bringing change and progress to the contemporary art world – he has been called the “Moses of the art world” – feeling that he was the one with the vital set of rules on stone tablets tucked under his arm….but today’s critics are less didactic though alas, often very dense in their writing. Greenberg felt that one couldn’t intellectually determine one’s response to art: that one should follow one’s automatic response with bravado and nerve and then work hard to “determine the difference between good and bad”. One of the exercises I have done in my workshops is to show very good and very bad art - (IMO of course!) - not stating what I think of the work, allow a discussion to take place - if you think it's good (or bad), then tell us why....
Other critics have sought to show the public the connection between a society, its culture and its art. They feel that the art should communicate about that culture rather than adhere to specific aesthetic goals (which can often render the art as dated by “fashion” within the art world). All seek to educate us, and to encourage us to spend more time with art. I think that this is very difficult for today's quilters - how to hold onto the tradition and at the same time make one's work relevant to today's culture? I find myself doing one thing or the other, and entering the work into different shows bearing in mind the particular bent of the juror.
Criticism has been defined as using language to explore visual images: trying to clarify one’s thoughts, emotions and understanding about a particular work. It should help us to see why we respond to this landscape, and not that one – when they may both be views of the same river. Why is this one more effective than that? From this kind of criticism, we can learn how to strengthen design, how to make better art, as well as how to understand and enjoy good lasting art – rather than art that is like candyfloss, a quick cheap flick of sweetness that soon grows stale.
The critic’s task is to put into words the effect that a work of art can have upon us. Thus the importance of the dance of communication between artist, the critic and the viewer.
I wish we had more art critics writing about art quilts, and didn’t have just those yes/no responses, all of us - art quilt makers, and viewers and collectors - would be better served.
So, what d’you think? Can the emphasis be switched from sport (running races with people coming in first, second, third etc) to education (leading us to a broader understanding of what the medium is about and what it can do)?
If you have been.....thanks for reading…. all comments Very Welcome! Elizabeth