Along with an MFA, I left grad school with an unofficial degree in criticism in three variations: snarky criticism, constructive criticism, and criticism of the shock-and-awe variety. All were thrown about wildly during critiques as sport. Which form would be offered up today by which professor? The visiting artist/critic always had the most freedom with shock-and-awe, because they could drop a bomb and then catch the next plane home. (I remember Joanne Greenbaum said in the car to the grad taking her to the airport: “Get me outta here!”) Fellow grads generally tried to maintain a respectful balance of gentle criticism and either silence or praise of each other; at the same time, we knew some level of actual critique was expected to keep the ball rolling. Otherwise, what would we all do for 45 minutes? Most of the time, I enjoyed critiques; I like debating.
When I first had the idea to start this blog, I thought: What a fun chance to let some pent-up, post-MFA-doldrums snarkiness fly. What an opportunity to constructively share how any variety of artists’ work could be better. In school the latter was always prefaced with some phrase like, “I’d like to see . . .” or “I wish that . . .” I’d like to see hundreds of these paintings shown all together to really bring home the concept of commodification through repetition. I wish the hot dog throwing had taken place before the soliloquy on capitalism. Ah, the good ol’ days.
Today I came to terms with the fact that I can’t have both. You can’t be a critic and an artist, at least with your peers. If you do, you’ll just go around burning bridges. I thought about creating an alter-ego, maybe named Polly Coffers, who would be the bitchy one with a bone to pick. It would be like the cartoon character with the cartoon Angel on one shoulder and the cartoon Devil on the other. This blog would be our conversation that I imagined going something like this:
SB: It was kind of refreshing to stand around and talk about painting in an “old-school” manner. The artist seemed like a nice guy, genuinely trying to capture some sense of nature in his abstract paintings.
PC: Yawn. Old white guy making more color fields. You know, SB, that if he were a woman, or brown, or young, none of this would go over well. It wouldn’t be “enough.” And by the way, I smell business.
SB: You smell rain on a crisp October afternoon. And we are finally attending an artist talk, isn’t that great? Shouldn’t we just appreciate him and his work for what it is and lay off on the cynicism?
PC: Why? Why spend the time when there is better and more interesting work to be thought about? Why feed the romantic mythology of the old white male modernist with his big brush?
SB: I think somebody’s jealous.
PC: Wait– what century are we in? Is that really his autograph on the front of the painting? Let’s ask him why he decided to do that.
SB: Enough from you! We are out in the Seattle Art Scene, with no baby I might add! Can’t we just savor this? I’m fitting into my pre-pregnancy jeans for crying out loud. Isn’t it sweet how people are telling him they enjoy living with his art? These people are just glowing with appreciation.
PC: You glow too when you’re shopping.
SB: Ok, who should we try to meet after the talk. Hmmm…. that would be two gold stars in one week. I wonder if I can make an online star chart with all of the stars I’ll be collecting. I love collecting things, and it would look so cool if it were hand–
PC: and did the gallery director really just say —–
So you see my point.
Something to do with having your cake and eating it too. Maybe this will be good for me. I will try to focus on the positive, on what I do like. Unlearn that knee-jerk reaction to critique. If that’s possible.