Thursday, April 23, 2009

some formal considerations after Monday's critiques


Silver Whisper: "trash?"

Before I make any decisions about the next steps I will take, I wanted to take some time to process the comments I got at my two final critiques of the term on Monday. I needed time to take them all into consideration and filter the useful from the irrelevant from the altogether trifling.

Yes, I said "trifling." And that's because there are some people who do not know how to give constructive criticism. The whole purpose of critiquing is to give people feedback they can use in order to do better work next time and improve upon what they have already done, is it not? It is not to be a forum for ad hominem attacks. The tagline of this blog is "art and design with an axe to grind," so I am going to go ahead and say that I am angry at being told that Silver Whisper looks like trash in the gallery. This is an art critique, not an episode of American Idol. What did I do to deserve such an insult? Honestly.

If I ever thought of making such a rude comment, I held my tongue. Telling someone that I thought their work was ugly wouldn't help them improve, so I never said it. I tried to provide useful feedback when I could.

The criticism that damages is that which disparages, dismisses, ridicules, or condemns. It is frequently vicious but vague and difficult to refute.
--Julia Cameron

I tried to keep that quote in mind. I am learning not to take things personally and trying not to wear my heart on my sleeve and growing a thicker skin and trying to remember that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and all those cliches. It was only one opinion and art is so subjective. And for once, for the first time in years, I did not internalize the insult long enough to decide I had no talent and give up painting. For once I did not give in to the kind of despair and desperation that led me to try to set my screenplay on fire that one time, the kind that led to a bout of writer's block so paralyzing that it forced me to drop out of my fiction MFA program. For once, I'm not sad. Just angry. And irritated. And annoyed. And I should have said something. I wish I could easily come up with snappy comebacks right on the spot like Dorothy Parker. I'll probably think of something good next week.

But the useful feedback I have gotten has led me to some important formal considerations. Like, can my pieces stand on their own as paintings? I mean, I see them as paintings, but if nobody else does, are they still paintings or are they merely "objects?" Should the materials I have used to create my work be mysteriously hidden or should they be obvious? Do the bottles on Adaptive Resue 2 even belong there? Is what I am doing so banal and ordinary that anyone can do it? Do all my pieces need to be the same size? Should I just go back to making art that looks like what I was doing before I went to grad school? I almost feel like that is what is being asked of me. But I thought you are supposed to expand your horizons in grad school. But maybe you're only supposed to do that in order to come full circle to where you started?

As you see, I have a lot of questions, a lot to consider. And I really do appreciate the useful feedback I received. As for the insult, I am keeping this in mind:

Do not indulge or tolerate anyone who throws cold water in your direction. Forget good intentions. Forget they didn't mean it. Escape velocity requires the sword of steely intention and the shield of self-determination.
--Julia Cameron


  1. I'm sorry to hear you thought you were harshly criticized.

    Personally, I didn't interpret the remark as an insult. I think the word trash was used to describe the materials, not the results of your labor. You really are using trash. That doesn't mean your work looks trashy. In the studio no one thought first about the materials, we thought about color, composition and content. In the gallery however, the material seemed to dominate those other considerations. Of course, it is up to you to decide if that is something worth considering. I'm pretty sure you know how I feel about that particular group of critics.

    I do agree, however, that your work succeeds more in the context of a series rather than as individual pieces. But I think that is true of most artwork.

  2. I probably was reading too much into it. I just have a lot going on right now and that comment really wasn't helping things. It takes me a while to sort out my feelings. Now that I've confronted how I feel about that remark, I feel a lot better.


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