Tuesday, February 10, 2009

On art and kitsch and the need for visual arts criticism in the region

Neil Johnson writes, "On the (once again) need for a visual art critic in NW Louisiana:

The challenge for a true critic is to find someone who 1) KNOWS art/art history to some degree, 2) is not connected at the hip to the local arts scene so they can be brutally honest, 3) have a thick skin, and 4) have half-decent writing skills. A tough, but not impossible combo. A Barksdale person (or spouse) who has just transferred in and is looking for something to do in the community might be just the ticket. This person would also need to commit to the job for at least a minimum of two years.

They also must do it for the passion for the arts, i.e., there ain't no money in it. Maybe a SRAC grant? And then, where to put reviews? The TImes might do it, but ONLY if donated. Or the Forum. Or an independent website. Let's get this discussion going, folks!"

This site, Shreveport Blog, would absolutely be available for publishing reviews. If only we could find a few people that meet the standards that Neil has well stated. It does not have to be one person. This duty would only be workable if shared, in fact. And I can see young medical types and new college faculty types stroking their chins and asking "Should I speak up?"

As an editor I would be delighted to give an assignment to those of you willing to try being critics or discerning observers. Would you like to review Tattoo at Artspace? You'll find both the laudable as well the not-so-laudable in that exhibit. If you'd like to begin with a less sensitive show, take the Warhol material at Meadows Museum or the Realism show at Norton.


Anonymous said...

To be brutally honest, I don't think the "local art scene" is ready for critique.

Not sure where art education and taste trade off, but my belief is that the latter trumps the former every time. Me, I have practically no art ed, but I am sure I know what I like and why I like it.

Having said that, from what I've seen (admittedly not all), there are about three strata. Maybe a half is not very good, more artifice, or even just intent, than art. It's studied, contrived, grasps at but misses either touching or cool.

About a third is journeyman OK. Not great, but some interesting techniques, subject matter, use of media.

And then there's the last 20%. Good stuff. Different. At times inspired and inspirational. Maybe half a dozen names come to mind.

So, assuming you find the magical major's wife with no fear of making enemies, how much do you want to know? Can everyone swear to avoid the typical whining and carping about the reviews and reviewer?

And most importantly, what difference will it make to the artist?

Anonymous said...

Yes, I agree with most of your thoughts. But the key for a reviewer is to be both honest as well as to point the way toward growth. Critics who stop after delivering a brutal assessment are not fulfilling their role.

"How much do you want to know?" This : which one is promising and why? Why did you say that this one is contrived? Why do you call this work kitsch? Why did you say that one was inspired? Was it the paint? The line?

In a scene that some term Not Ready for Critique the reviewer has to be both diplomatic and a skillful writer.

That's a lot to ask.

. said...

Nice work and comments Neil, Robert, and Anon! An objective, honest critic is something every artist worth anything appreciates. Srac would also benefit from some challenging, impeccable commentary on its role as leader of our arts community. As the economy forces many to hang closer to home, this is a perfect time to examine, cultivate, and celebrate what makes us unique - hone what works - and deliver it to the public with professionalism.
The arts critic is a journalist - someone observing and documenting what is happening and interpreting the significance to the community. If we are to grow into the "next great city of the south" we need to have a dialog about the more cerebral, artistic elements of our community. I'd love to see the Times make such a commitment to our culture.

Pan's Pantry said...

After an absence from the arts community here for awhile, I feel I am qualified except for #3. Having friends matters more to me than the act of criticism, and skews my vision where such things are concerned. One of the finest things about the art community in Shreveport is that it IS a community, comprised of artists with various levels of talent, education, style and commitment. You'd definitely need to reach far outside the local gene pool to find someone willing to pollute that.

Unknown said...

Could it be a magical major's husband? Why we gotta assume...

I agree we could stand some published (print, Internet or video/tv) reviews. It would keep us from putting our crap out there.

I think that's one reason it's taken me so long to settle on a style I want to explore for the next year... the fear of old stuff coming back to haunt me in the future. Going to the Clyde Connell and Frances Drew shows helped with that.

And while we're at it can we review all the crappy society pics we're slapping in our printed media? I'd rather have one good photo than 60 bad ones floating around.

Anonymous said...

Just a thought. If we can't get one perfect person...why not play "tag you're it.." and have random drive-by reviews.

It would include one picture, one sentence of what you liked, one sentence of what you didn't like, and one sentence of what the show reminded you of in the art world past/history.

Perhaps by taking turns with such a light assignment, someone would discover a new passion.

Debbie Buchanan Engle said...

Everyone loves to hate a good critic!

We absolutely need this selfless public service in Shreveport.

We also need to thicken our collective skin if this comes to pass.

Honest criticism is vital to our maturity...are we ready for it?

I'm in.

Unknown said...

I'm in.

I'd love to see it put together like a good movie review. Pointing out all the good things along with the weaknesses. But in much shorter sentences and some very lovely visuals when possible.

P.S. Don't artists kinda of know what's the best and worst part of our work/shows?

Robert E Trudeau said...

Pardon me if I make a few requests to get our float into the street:

1) Meadows / Warhol: Alan
2. Tattoo: Debbie
3. Barnwell / 4 couples: Neil
4. Bossier Arts Council (?): Anon
5. Norton / New Realism: Robert
6. SUMAS: Noma
7. MCSS: Ellen Soffer (?)
8. Coming up: Bruce Allen's left testicle at Turner: Debbie.

- Also, I hope we can agree that all pieces will be signed.
- And assignments may be traded to better suit the writers.

. said...

way to throw down the gauntlet robert!
where is neil on this list?
I'm willing.
suppose we could set a deadline to have all these in? and to where?

. said...

there he is...
so much for my reading skills.

Anonymous said...

Great energy, but I gotta wonder how straight you can be reviewing your friends. Me, I'm down with my homies, and would always spin unless they fronted me.

Patting each other on the back is swell, cause that's what friends do, but that aint critique.

I also wonder about trying to find something positive in reviewed material. Some stuff the most positive thing to say is, "I'm positive this is pretty dreadful."
Critics-as-coaches may work in an educational setting, but I got the impression from the original post that it's the avocational sector we're talking about.

Debbie Buchanan Engle said...

Aww, Mr. Trudeau, don't give us homework over the weeeekeeend!!

A good critique is unbiased and fair. If we do what Robert is suggesting, we will all benefit & grow - both the artists and the reviewers.

None of us hate each other (as far as I know), and we are all used to expressing our honest opinions about each other's work...this is a natural continuum of that professional relationship.

Isn't this a lot like what we did in art school? It was a good exercise then, and it will be now.

I'm still in.

Unknown said...

I would think the reviews would need to be done and up the early part of the first week of the exhibits to give folks time to digest them.

I'm really bad about getting to the Spring Street Museum to see them like on the last day and then posting about them when it does no one any good.

Here's an example of an arts preview at austinist.com http://austinist.com/2009/02/06/domy_expands_with_project_space_and.php

We have an obligation to expand the coverage of our arts community as much as possible because the mainstream media seems to want to print as much information on knee replacements as possible. I'll be hard on the TV stations too -- I'm really tired of seeing newscasts filled with reports of where auto accidents happened. Who cares?

Unknown said...

Is the VW van in the photo a resident of Shreveport? Sorry guys, I am really a car art freak... everybody has their kink. You can go back to your serious discussion, now.

Robert E Trudeau said...

The van, which I would call great car kitsch, was spotted in the parking of the Museum of Fine Arts Houston.

vulnadia said...

kathryn JUST revived this thread on f/b after another show was told it would not be reviewed by the local paper-there is an unbiased pool of possible reviewers out there that COULD really help us all out artistically & build us an audience too-kill 2 birds with one stone, BUT we will need the support of the schools- why not have high school students review our art, our shows & performances? who better to learn & grow & benefit & possibly acquire a love for something different than a student? but we will need teacher support for such endeavors to work-anybody else think this might work out? (~Mimi)