I’ve been looking around for good examples of art criticism lately since there seems to be a lack of it in the art quilt world. I’m beginning to feel that this deficit is not confined to quilts! I read a review about the fibre work of artist Orly Genger recently. She uses rope to crochet mats and amorphous shapes which are then stacked up or leant against the walls of the museum or gallery. Two things obviously stood out in the reviewer's mind: the scale of the work, and the pain suffered by the artist in creating the work. It’s both interesting and depressing that no other judgment was given of the value of the work other than a basic description of it. There was no (as far as I could see) evaluation of how this was art, or how it added to truth , discovery or beauty within the world, or what it might inspire in others.
This does seem to be a pattern in many of the art "reviews" I've perused recently. They focus mainly on a description of the work using words like zine and trope quite frequently (I'm always looking them up and then forgetting what they mean, perhaps I could find a way to incorporated them into my quotidian discourse (2 more favorites).
Furthermore, when you do find what purport to be actual evaluations of work (other current artists, not Genger) rather than just plain descriptions, they are extremely generic, being limited to phrases like: “her work is uneven”, and “the paintings are competent but uninspired”, the work “feels forced” although there are “witty details”. You could apply these vague comments to many pieces in any quilt show, they’re so generic. Here’s one I like: “uncannily pertinent”! Yes, I think I might apply that to some work I’ve seen!! But, think about it, whenever was pertinence really uncanny? Arn’t they just taking any old adverb and attaching it to any old adjective? The quilts of Ms Smith were so superbly arrogant in their witty loftiness. And Mr. Brown’s pieces were seen “ at once to be unabashedly romantic and oddly remote” while at the same time displaying a competent wonder. If that fails, then one should double up on the adverbs as in: “unexpectedly and unforgettably alien”.
Of course the descriptions could be like those of real estate. One man’s paintings were described as “sumptuous” – presumably they were over large (or should I say expressionisticly mammoth?) and dripped with paint. Another’s work was considered to be “affecting”. Probably made you sneeze as you looked at them. “Strikingly original” (yes another happy adverb adjective combination!) would suggest that as you gazed at the work boxing gloves came out on extending arms and jabbed you in the nose.
Some critics adopt a scatalogical pose (it’s not only little children who delight in this!): “they are exquisitely painted, dignified when they look like a phallus, and morbidly funny when they look like a pile of excrement”. It really makes you want to rush to the gallery doesn’t it?! To laugh at a pile of shit? What are we coming to?
And then there’s the Jane Austen school of critics who are much persuaded by the sensibility of the much admired work they view, as they generally accept the tropes of gentle irony. Oops it’s getting to me.
It’s always good to mention metaphor if all else fails in trying to understand art (and we all know that it’s currently fashionable for artists to say “Oh the interpretation is whatever the viewer wants to make of it”) so you don’t even need to specify the actual metaphor. Here’s a phrase that could apply to a lot of work: “the metaphor is massive and crosses boundaries of time, taste, tragedy and stuff a housekeeper won’t touch”!! though one could always make a guess. And at the same time be sure to temper any phrase with a useful “perhaps” as in: “Perhaps the picture represents a spirit rising above death’s reach, a mixed message both ominous and hopeful” – let’s be sure to fall squarely on each side of that one! Especially when one is “grappling with the human spirit’s transcendence of the flawed, mortal self”!! Yes, these are real, and from different critics writing about different artists. I kid you not!
So back to the pain and the size… I was wondering if we might be able to get Art Quilts taken more seriously by the Real Art world (which of course is not in any way to be confused with the Real World!) if we just made our quilts immensely large and in the most painful way possible. (And we already have the phrases as outlined above for the critical review!).
So how could the size be achieved and the pain more visible? How can our work be expressively gigantic and painfully rendered? Perhaps if we got many art quilters together working on one piece? A quilt that stretched between acres of sewing machines, and we could have arrows sticking out of our shoulders and maybe flames thrusting up from time to time underneath to portray the mental heat involved? or something else…..
If we did that….and made the subject of the pieces an artistic trope of elimination and erection, exquisitely and metaphorically rendered…I think we might be ready to call in the critics! We should of course supply them with two little bags (oh yes, Tim, I think black velvet drawstring ones!) – one would contain arcane adverbs and the other an ambiguous agglomeration of adjectives! Onward and upward! oops I should say : let us go forward in a surprisingly upward and unforgettably and obscurely onward direction.
And, if you have been, thanks for reading! and do send any examples of such critical bon mots as you might stumble over! Elizabeth