Thursday, March 13, 2014

Hearing Yourself Thinking, Hearing Yourself Seeing.

I just read a very interesting article in a new (to me at least) magazine of interviews (actually called Interview, it must have come free with something and has been totally fascinating reading) about two famous NYC art critics: Jerry Saltz (New York magazine) and Roberta Smith (NY times)  married to each other for years. They are two of the best known, most influential art critics of our time. They go out to see 25-30 art shows per week!  …then race home – (or perhaps stagger with stimulus overload!) and write their reviews.  Some of the things they discussed totally resonated with me.

 Roberta Smith said that the act of writing the review itself is the real test of one’s view of the art.  “Writing is a process that tells you what to think” – that sometimes your real feeling about the art you’ve seen isn’t clear until you try to put it into words and make sense of it. That's why I feel it's so important for us to develop an art vocabulary - words help us to think!  Just try it without!

Roberta Smith commented that quite often “when you look at art, you hear yourself thinking things you don’t want to be thinking”!!  (I know I’ve had thoughts at some quilt shows – and many art shows too, that I certainly felt I didn’t want to be SAYING, though I don’t know about thinking!)  She feels that your opinion can switch as you look at the work: initial dislike can change to like and vice versa, that you might go in with a very positive attitude but then as you look more, discover things you really don’t like.

They both advocate that one should take one’s time when viewing art.  They feel that “that whole Gladwellian “blink” first-opinion-is-the-best-one is terribly anti-intellectual to begin with, but for art it’s disastrous”.  And yet, how very often is this how our art quilts are judged?  The jurors for the prestigious quilts shows talk about having to make judgments just about as fast as the blink of an eye.  Certainly I felt that many of the judgments in a local art show I just visited where probably made when the judge’s eye was actually blinking!!  Because they were blinking ‘orrible!!!   

Smith and Salz recall some of the art that in the end they developed the greatest respect for, they had actually hated at first glance.  They suggest that one revisit art multiple times, letting your doubt work for you as an important cognitive process.

They also advocate that a critic – or juror – should know nothing  at all about what the artist thinks – no artist statements…let the art speak for itself.  I’ve never understood why the quilt catalogues require such statements and I don’t read them.When I do critique sessions in my workshops, I try to prevent the artist from speaking – not always possible of course!! The work of art itself is the artist statement, you don’t need more. 
 “Don’t talk, I can’t hear myself see!”

And, if you have been, thanks for reading!!!  Elizabeth


Sharon the lurker said...

What a great idea. Be quiet so I can see. I love a show before it's open. I think it's the quiet

Vicki Miller said...

It's funny, because last night my hubby and I were discussing how I listen to his talk about his work, but that I have given up talking to him about my work, because he isn't listening. I felt that if I could talk to him about it then I could be clearer in my own mind about my direction. Perhaps I should just talk to the puppy. She looks like she is listening. She wiggles her ears!

Connie in Alabama said...

Occasionally someone will send me a photo of their work and ask for a critique. I agree, writing about a work makes us express in words what is right or wrong, and clarifies our feelings about the work. Writing forces us to take a longer look. However, I think first impressions are important, because if the artist is expressing emotion, the viewer will hopefully have an immediate visceral reaction. It may not be the same set of emotions. That first reaction is anti-intellectual, but it may be the message and the start of a conversation with the viewer. Those artist statements that want the artist to explain their intent ruin this whole experience, because the viewer will default to reading the artist' swords rather than exploring the art.

Connie in Alabama said...

Artist's words, not artist' swords. Damn autocorrect.

Claire said...

Love your comment about artist's statements. Usually meaningless drivel just because someone thought it was required. Art should speak for itself.

Anonymous said...

Interesting post. I find that writing brings the ideas together, too. Meaning, I really wouldn't get to the idea WITHOUT writing it. I find that my opinions / impressions of a novel can swing wildly about too. Certainly a piece that is 'good' will collect esteem and appreciation over time, though? After the swings settle?