04 April, 2007

Art Criticism, an April Project

Abstract on it's Side
Casey Klahn

Those of us who write Art Blogs, and are working artists ourselves, are wearing more than one hat (or beret?). We are writers, art professionals (that's a broad pool), editors (some might say inveterate cut-and-pasters), and every time we comment on either our own art, or that of another artist, we are wearing the hat of the art critic.

What is that swaying I feel? Could it be the limb that I have crawled out on?

Of course, I know that the office of the Art Critic is different from that of the fine artist. You have no argument with me, there. The critic's reason for being is, in the standard definition, to provide an evaluation of art to the public. They aren't necessarily the arbiters of taste, but there is a need for their product. Heaven knows, artists don't often make themselves understood either in written or in verbal form.

One extreme of opinion among artists has it that "art should speak for itself!" Shoulda, woulda, coulda, I say. We do live in a world where it behooves the artist to define his own artistic direction and statement before someone else does it for him. Will there ever be a professional art critic 's attention to your work? Statistically thin chances, there. Maybe a review by an arts writer in the local newspaper. One of our local arts writers also covers the R.V. beat.

The Abstract Expressionists ( USA, 1940s - 1950s) were armed with a layered array of self-promotion tools. A few of them (the painters themselves) were essayists and critics, and also a few were curators of exhibitions. They commiserated among one another about their artistic directions. External support came in the form of gallerists as allies, and of course, writers whose profession was art criticism.

Detractors may say that the funny-looking abstractionists' paintings relied upon written descriptions and promotion. I don't agree, as the test of posterity has proven, these breakthrough works have an audience. Look at the crowds at the MoMA on a given weekday-regular people with common tastes. Note: next month I will be hob-nobbing (fantasy interviews) with the larger-than-life Abstract Expressionists in NYC. Take a trip with me back in time and see what "made them tick".

Does an artist need to be apt as a critic? No. But self-criticism is a requirement for artistic growth. Indeed, the ability to "see" and absorb the visual aspects, and the subvisual aspects of art, is needed if the artist is to depart on his own journey. I feel that when I do this task, much of the time none of it is reaching my brain in the form of words. How would I describe what I am doing in a written form? What words would I use to describe my art? What words would I use to describe the process?

Throughout the month of April, we will be looking at art criticism, writing in general, and, by extension, the artist's statement. I have a special and free project for the artists who read this blog. We will be doing a trade of reviews. More on that, later.

I hope that those who usually think "Yick!" when they think about writing and visual art will follow this interactive thread this month for some user-friendly content on writing about art. We'll have some fun writing for one another and sharing ideas and opinions, as well.

For the more in-depth out there, we'll take apart the high and lofty world of art criticism. We will be looking at some notables in the field. As always, I want to avoid descending into the black pit of "Artspeak", and keep it lively and informative.

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Abstract Expressionism, Art Criticism, Artists, Colorist Art, Drawing, History, Impressionism, Modern Art, Painting, Pastel, Post Impressionism