Thursday, August 05, 2010

Rubbing Elbows or Breaking Arms: How Best to Respond to Art Critics in the Information Age

Rubbing Elbows or Breaking Arms: How Best to Respond to Art Critics in the Information Age

Before I venture into the grit of the topic above I wish to make something clear. I rank Edward Winkleman, Paddy Johnson, and Hrag Vartanian-- among others-- as examples of the top art bloggers writing today. While I enjoy their critical writings and insight-- I don’t always agree with their views. I’m certain they don’t always agree with me for that matter. That said, I have issue with a recent post by Edward Winkleman that I would like to tackle today. It is by no means a gesture of disrespect that I do so- and I’m taking it on because it is a topic I’ve wrestled with in the past. Game on…

I recently read an article about how an artist should respond-- or not respond-- to art critics. The article was written by Edward Winkleman-- an art dealer and popular art blogger who is based in NYC. In the article Winkleman made it clear that-- after what is perceived as a negative review-- an artist should avoid lashing out at the reviewer. Furthermore, Winkleman’s article stressed that artists who are scathed by an art critics review should avoid posting about their frustration online. I for one have a different opinion on this matter. I see nothing wrong with criticizing-- or reviewing-- an art critic depending on how one handles himself or herself within the context of the debate.

The article hints-- at least my interpretation of it-- that an artists best bet is to just stay silent in the face of negative art criticism-- that the artwork alone is the statement and that if that statement fails it is a sign that the artist needs to ‘come back‘ with a better statement-- by means of artwork exhibited-- rather than cross words with the art critic. It seems that Winkleman is concerned that anything else may come off as combative or disrespectful-- and implies that trading barbs verbally, or in written/typed word, can be harmful to an artists future success.

I understand Winkleman’s thought process on this issue to a certain point. After all, an artist should be thankful that he or she received any form of criticism as long as said review was professionally done. As the old saying goes, “Any press is good press.”-- and even the worst of press can be twisted toward the positive as some blog followers mentioned on Winkleman’s blog. However, I don’t think the conversation for the artist should stop the moment his or her artwork is displayed publicly. I stand firm in saying that the conversation between art critic and artist-- be it verbally or by text-- is just as important as the ‘conversation’ said art critic has with the artwork itself.

In other words, just as an artist knows that his or her artwork will-- potentially-- be finely examined by the public-- including art critics-- an art critic should be able to accept that his or her words will also be finely examined. To suggest that an artist should not display his or work publicly unless he or she is prepared for criticism is a fair statement to make-- I’m not suggesting that artists should be placed in a protective bubble. That said, is it so far-fetched to suggest that an art critic should be prepared to face debate concerning his or her published criticism?

To put it bluntly, if an artist should not exhibit publicly if he or she wants to avoid criticism-- as Winkleman mentioned-- it is my opinion that it is only fair to state that an art critic should avoid publishing a controversial critique, review, or interview if he or she feels that the conversation stops there. I’d go as far as to say that it is time for the art critics to be pushed out of their protective bubbles. The shield of paper… the honored tradition of printed word-- due to the Internet-- is no longer a barrier between artist, art critic, and the public. Communication is open-- and free-- as should be expected.

This idea that the artists opinion stops once the work is displayed and the art critics opinion stops once said opinion is published is a total breakdown on dialogue and contemporary thought-- one that is almost laughable within the context of the communication driven culture we now live in. It leads one to ask-- who is served by art critics who are above the scalpel of public debate? Furthermore, why should art critics feel entitled-- in this age of information and communication-- to be above the trappings of their opinions?

These questions spur further questions. At heart art criticism and reviews are a form of debate, correct? So why should the artist be “urged” to stay out of the conversation surrounding his or her artwork? True, it is best for the artist to avoid a 140 character post on Twitter that is laced with profanity against an art critic-- or forming a Facebook group that states that targeted art critic devours kittens. However, if a response to an art critique is within reason I fail to see why said ‘conversation’ should be silenced due to some traditional view of what is accepted and what is not within the context of art writing in general.

My opinion stands-- I see nothing wrong with an artist offering his or her opinion of the review on a personal blog or by other means. Why do some individuals assume that artists are not capable of communicating about their artwork and direction in a reasonable manner when confronted with a seemingly negative write-up about his or her artwork? I just don’t understand the taboo of sparking that form of debate if it is within reason. I’m certain that I’m not the only individual to feel this way on the topic.

In closing Winkleman stated, “you have much, much more to lose by disagreeing in public with someone whose opinion you invited. If you didn't want it, why ask for it?”. In other words, Winkleman suggests that an exhibiting artist is inviting opinions from art critics and should be prepared for negative reviews-- which is dead on correct. However, I don’t think the conversation should stop there. To suggest that the statement of an artist stops with his or her artwork is to totally disregard the strengths of the individual behind the art. There is more to an artist than just his or her skill to create art-- there are intellectual levels-- a flow of potential conversations-- that can, and should, be explored.

I’ll add to my view-- if it is expected for an artist to not exhibit if he or she is apt to confront a seemingly negative statement by an art critic one should also state that if an art critic desires to avoid contemporary dialogue-- fueled by the Internet-- perhaps he or she should find another line of work-- one that is less vocal, less opinionated, and less likely to spur global communication about what was said and why about an artist. The past shield of paper-- or should I say print-- is nothing more than a paper tiger today. What say you?
Link of Interest:
How Best to Respond to Your Critics by Edward Winkleman
Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin
Senior Editor


Smitty said...

How can anyone have a solid understanding of art? Each artist adds something and I think the only thing critics should talk about is technical skill. With some work technical skill is not the issue. Look how Picasso and some of the greats limited their skills on purpose. The whole of art speak is a loud of fluff if you ask me.

Anonymous said...

Careful, careful. Don't bash down the pearl gates!!! Personally I don't take much stock in what a critic says unless they can draw something other than a stick man.