03 April, 2007

In the (Hypothetical) Case of The Artist Jane Doe Versus The Guardian U.K., et al., the Jury Finds...

Speaking of art criticism, at Art News Blog Dion Archibald recently posted this:

Interpreting Art - Artist or Critic?

Ana Finel Honigman has asked an interesting question over at the Guardian blog. She asks, Is an artist's idea of what their work means more important than the viewer's interpretation, or are they both valid?

I like the idea of a work of art doing its own talking. If it needs an explanation by the artist, he/she has probably made the work too complicated. An artist and an art critic should be two very different people. One creates art and the other talks about art.

I would still rather listen to an artist talk about art, rather than a critic talking about art though.

Here's what Ana Finel Honigman says..
"..many academics or critics exploit art's "messages" for self-interested methodological or political ends. But many excellent artists leave themselves defenseless against such hijacking because they cannot articulate persuasively why they do what they do. And further complicating these relationships is that many artists who can explain their work are more articulate verbally than visually, which is why much of bad art is not really art but is rather merely illustrations of ideas.." Guardian Blog

At first, many things about these threads had me in disagreement with them. I do prefer the truth of the artist's intention in a work, over an interpretation by an observer.

The battle royale in such a case would be the conflict between the interpretation of an artwork by the originating artist and that of a professional art critic. The artwork is the artist's intellectual property, after all. In a hypothetical court case about the meaning of an artwork, I would hope that the artist's words would prevail over the third party writer, no matter how "professional" they may be.

I read the threads a little closer, then, and I see that the writers are coming down on my side of the fence, too. Dion asks which character has the best interpretation of a given artwork, but he prefers the artist's words as at least being more interesting than a third party observer. The UK Guardian's Honigman indicts the motives of some critics' interpretations as self-serving, but then adjures the artist to get on the stick and try to provide their own interpretations before someone else does.

I guess I flew off the handle a bit quickly. It was the calling into question of the unity of meaning and intent that rubbed me wrong, I guess.

If you are an artist, did it ever occur to you that there is a very large and broad profession of individuals who make their livings in art, but who are not producing any art themselves? I don't condemn this, by the way. It just lets us know that we ought to be able to find our share of the pie, given that we are, er...artists, after all. The blue collar members of the art business, if you will. The hands on guys.

I get a chuckle from Honigman's statement:"... much of bad art is not really art but is rather merely illustrations of ideas.." It's another thread, but it's good to put a little thought into qualifying art.

In defense of the critic, their job is important to the artist and to the public at large. They should be trying to position a given work or body of art, or a given artist or collection of artists in a stream of context. Either a movement, a school of thought or a style. Or maybe the lack thereof - maybe this work of art is a watershed work, a breakthrough, as it were. My point is these are contexts bigger than the artist and his artwork, and it doesn't harm the artist when an art critic helps to identify or describe that.

I know there is a place for "radical" art criticism, and I will address that in a future post.

Is the art viewer's interpretation valid? Certainly. But a thing cannot, in truth, be both Thing "A" and Thing "B" at the same time. The observer can respond authentically any way they choose, but the artist had "A" in mind, and I value the discovery of that thing that has been called the artist's "oeuvre".

I know, I know - some artists will create "participative" works. Great, more power to them. There is always a comedian in the bunch. (Light-hearted joking, here.)

Comments, please...


Philip said...

I had intended to comment on your last post but the comment facility is not showing for some reason - any ideas?

You lean more favourably to critics than I do. Sometimes I think they can be like a cancer and really stick the boot in. I feel I would like to say to them 'show me your work then!'. It's very easy to sit on the side lines and be a critic. I generally prefer to let the artist explain their work rather than have it filtered by a third party who may have too much influence (either good or bad).

I am not sure bloggers are all that open to critics. I think I am one of the few that doesn't moderate comments on their blog. I guess it illustrates a certain sensitivity or lack of confidence on the part of those that feel they have to vet everything. What do you think?

I sometimes post to art forums on the net and a few weeks ago a guy said he really hated my work. I was so pleased it made me smile! What I can't stand is indifference. If someone hates my work it amounts to the same as someone liking itIMO. In other words, it proves that the art 'works' - to my way of thinking anyway. Being ignored is much worse.

Casey Klahn said...

Sometimes the comments switches get bumped, and I am at fault. Other times I think they do it via a little troll who inhabits Blogger.
Thanks for the heads up on that!
One of your heroes, Andy Warhol said that he didn't pay any attention to the content of criticism, but that he just counted the lines.
Yes, I think the critic should at least establish a direction or philosophy before they can "get away" with the negatives.
One of my sources has it that most comments from art critics are favorable.
Your work-hater obviously suffers from too much free time, to say nothing of his ignorance of both the formal and the aesthetic qualities of art appreciation. You are long-suffering, my friend.
You might like my project later, which will be artists exchanging petite essays (or even only 1 or 2 sentences) about one another's art. It will be a pool that I will host.

Philip said...

Sounds like a good idea. Hope you get some more volunteers though!

Casey Klahn said...

Laugh Out Loud, as they say.
You should see my stats going down with this thread! I guess that the subject of art criticism is a less-than appealing one for many.
I think I'll have to make sure to post some art, and get on top of the subject before I post the "Event".
I have it written and saved, and will make sure that I present it clearly and attractively.
The goal and bottom line: artist participants will have a nice third-party essay about their body of work, written from a unique and professional perspective by another artist.

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