Thursday, August 7, 2008

On criticism and the like

I've been thinking a lot about the nature of criticism lately for various reasons. It all started when I read the short and tart review of the Monthly that was posted on yelp about a week ago. Said review then got mention on Heckasac, got discussed, and since then our modest number of yelp postings have doubled to include one from the Freeport Bakery! Perhaps I should consider it the zenith of my success when one of my favorite bakeries gives me the thumbs up. As all this was going on it was brought to my attention recently that I am also, via my affiliation with the Monthly, the member of a cabal which is quite fine by me. As opposed to the "gang" which was also referenced in the article I suppose I would rather be thought to be part of some secret society with conspiratorial powers as opposed to a group that wants to wangle chains and knife tires.

In addition to this I have recently been embarking upon a project which takes place in my studio or bedroom about once a year. The project I speak of is the methodical and tedious organization of all press, and documentation materials relating to my art career including the comment books from my shows which can make for interesting reading. (something about this post is beginning to make me feel like Andy Rooney)

Anyhoo... overall the comments on my thesis show were pretty positive with the exception of:

"I am embarrassed to say I received an MA from this school" - signed anonymous

Rumor around campus had it that anonymous and her cronies made a complaint to the department about me as well trying to prevent them from awarding me a degree. Nuts to her, my graduation confirmation came back last week. za zing!

Shumbles, stuffed toys, rope, 9’x3’6”x3’6”, 2004
Going further back to when I won best of show at the state fair turns up even better comments. I'm only reprinting some of the better ones here as there were about 40 pages total ALL negative.

ALL negative:

"The piece called shambles was very ugly. I do not see how it could have won over the bull" - Rayanne

"Best of Show was an insult to the other artists in this exhibit. I can't believe you picked THIS for Best of Show." - Mary

"Best of Show - Who judges this? It was awful! How much were you paid? Why is this art?" - anonymous

"Your choice of Best of Show and Juror's Award can only be described as the kind of "art" that gives "art" a bad name! The only thing it translates is the art snob crowd's ability to look down their nose at the casual observer. What tripe! What an offense to the senses. As for the "judges" and the "jurors" did they serve on the O.J. trial?!?!?!?!?!?! That thing is no more art than what my chihuahua produces if I give him a teddy bear to chew! MAYBE I SHOULD ENTER MY DOG'S WORK"- Jessica

"Are you kidding? Your choice for best of show gives a strong message that future entrants need look no further than their garbage cans!!! What an insult to the real artists." - anonymous

"I can't believe the ugly piece hanging in the middle of the exhibit with the polyester oozing from every ragged pore. It looks like a bunch of stuffed animals torn apart and resembled." - Betsy

*****Betsy's astute observation of what the piece actually was made me chuckle when I read it.****

"It's awful to leave an exhibit and feel angry. This makes me sad." - Ann

and finally

"I don't like the lint bag. Looks like a testicle from the drier." - anonymous

Just before I graduated I was asked to give a lecture to a group of sophomore art majors at CSUS. At the end of the lecture the professor who's class it was mentioned working on the installation committee the year I took top honors and brought up the controversy that surrounded my work. We discussed it a bit and when it was time for the Q&A at the end of the lecture a woman in the front row asked me how I have the strength to go on given the swack of insults I received after that show. Her question seriously caught be off guard because though I carefully read and thought about some of the comments in that book it never occurred to me that they would in any way affect my ability to make work. In fact some of the comments had the opposite affect and made me even more resolute in my desire to make work.

In general after mulling over all of these various bits and pieces over the past few days I've come to one small personal conclusion while getting my laps in this morning at the Southside pool ( best place to think ever). I'm truly %100, fine with criticism as long as it's genuine. When I was an undergrad one of my favorite professors of all time told me that there is a fine line between constructive criticism and just plain being hurtful or intentionally or unintentionally, breaking someone's enthusiasm to pursue their ideas. That said, to succeed in her class you were expected to take criticism with an absolutely positive attitude and consider whether it could be useful to your work before dismissing it.

Whenever I find myself confronted with feedback whether it be in a comment book at a show, in a critique, or on the internet in addition to weighing out what possible benefit the criticism may be to me I'm wondering if it's intended to be a sincerely helpful observation or merely a dig. Most of the time when it's a dig it rolls off me like water off a ducks back. Conversely, when I criticize the endeavors of others I try to be as reasoned and fair as possible in my observations.

This is not to say of course that pearls don't occasionally drop from the mouths of total assholes and when that happens their opinion is as valid as anyone else's. Boy the more layers I take off this onion the more complicated it gets. For the sake of argument though lets use the above comments as my examples of comments that aren't particularly constructive.

Bottom line it's easy to say something harsh or snarky or cruel - especially anonymously - it's much more difficult to say something reasoned and insightful measuring the good against the bad. I suppose I'm not so much referring to anything that's been said about my doings in the past few days so much as just my feelings on criticism in general.

As a side note, not that it's ever happened but it would be rad to get a comment accompanied by an email address one of these days. I would have loved to known how I made Ann sad.



Tosca said...

Very insightful. I appreciate your steadfastness when it comes to the criticism of you artistic abilities.
I have a guess as to why Ann is sad - teddy bear guts.

wolf said...

"Bottom line it's easy to say something harsh or snarky or cruel - especially anonymously - it's much more difficult to say something reasoned and insightful measuring the good against the bad."

beautiful sentence. so true. maybe it's just laziness on part of the critic, but it seems like positivity or taking time to actually formulate an open-minded opinion of one's own beyond "i don't like that" is way overlooked these days.