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montreal report

Post #632 • September 26, 2005, 8:53 AM • 33 Comments

Actually, there isn't a whole lot to report. The audience didn't seem to have much familiarity with art blogging, so we shared what we do in a manner that would not be informative to Artblog.net readers. We did two hour-long presentations, one Friday, one Saturday. The Friday panel consisted of Chris Hand, moderator, Miriam Verberg, and myself. Saturday's featured Chris, Sabine Modder, Karen D'Amico, and me again.

The presentations had small but interested audiences. Friday focused on blogs as a creative medium. People were thinking a lot about authorship, the role of the witness, and the possibilities of collaboration, and when I quoted something I heard once from a writer, that two people getting together to write a book is like three people getting together to make a baby, it didn't go over. I figured out pretty quickly that the crowd had some bad feelings about individual authorship. (Later, I realized why they had posted the conference schedule as a wiki, which was crazy, and why the event seemed rather disorganized. It was because nobody wanted to claim individual authorship. I got the sense that these folks were socialists. Uh oh.)

Saturday focused on blogs as a critical medium. Again, we talked about things already mentioned here - how blogs are changing the critical landscape, how they sanction a wider range of critical expression than traditional print media, how they correct themselves more efficiently. Karen and Sabine only write about things they like, and Karen mentioned that she doesn't want to act as an art critic because she's an artist and the community she works in is insular. Meanwhile, Chris and I come from the Just Keep Shooting school of art writing, consequences be damned, and there have been consequences to damn for both of us. I respect both of these approaches even while favoring mine. I think the art world would operate pretty much in the way it does even if all the critics suddenly evaporated. But I remain excited about the possibility of creating alternative networks that make end runs around the traditional ones. Criticism thrives on independence. So does art, too, I believe, and the web's ability to leverage power to individual (yes, individual) creators may end up serving us quite well.

Big props to Chris for making it happen.

Comment

1.

alesh

September 26, 2005, 10:16 AM

Karen mentioned that she doesn't want to act as an art critic because she's an artist and the community she works in is insular

Wouldn't this sort of (understandable) feeling decrease as more and more people have blogs? If someone has the only art blog in town and badmouths an artist, it's a bigger deal then if there are a couple of hundred art blogs in town (even if the same # of people read said badmouthing), right?

2.

ms quoted

September 26, 2005, 10:50 AM

Doing an art crit on someone's art properly (with respect) should never come across as 'bad mouthing'. I tell ahab straight out when he does a piece I don't like and I tell him why I think that. I talk about the piece. Ahab does not take my crit personally but challenges me in a conversation about my opinion and we both end up learning. As the artist he choses whether or not to use my crit to inform his piece or whether to ignore it. I am not insulted if he says "I think you are wrong" as he is not insulted about my take on his art. I have heard ahab engage with other artists in this same way.

In my limited experience, the most dynamic artist are the ones that rise to the challenge and even enjoy criticism while the other's art seem stagnant and pandering.

I suppose it is a risk. Look at Oldpro. He receives the "Oh yeah! Well.... you are stupid! Your mom dresses you funny AND you stink!" type of response all the time when he is challenging ideas....and spelling.

3.

alesh

September 26, 2005, 12:03 PM

Yeah . . . badmouthing is not the right word. But telling someone your honest negative opinion of their work is exactly different from putting that opinion on a blog, where it's available to everyone.

In one case you're probably helping that person, in the other you're, at least arguably, hurting them (or at least hurting their feelings).

People write blogs are generally unpaid, and are participants in whatever scene they're addressing. This is in contrast to journalists, who are paid to be critical. I suspect that people like Franklin, who are willing to be negative even when it may be against their interests, will tend to be outnumbered as time goes on.

4.

oldpro

September 26, 2005, 12:42 PM

A good example of what you are talking about, Ms., is an artist much admired up in your town: Anthony Caro. I have been at a number of workshops with him and he practically begs people to make suggestions. It is a symption of his utter seriousness as an artist - not even ego gets in the way of making the art better.

Most of the things I most regret in my writing of the past is being too critical in print. Often, particlarly on the blog, I realize I am criticizing an artist when the real target is the audience that overrates the artist.

My mom did her best but I still dress funny. I was threatened recently with the specter of having to wear a jacket and tie and I went into a panic I wouldn't even know where to look in the closet.

5.

George

September 26, 2005, 1:06 PM

An observation regarding that mythical but non-specific "artist much admired." These artists frequently face a different problem not unlike what oldpro alludes to with Caro, people are often too intimidated to question much. Worse, his or her colleagues are either in awe or more likely, playing politics and they don't say anything either. A one on one critical studio dialog is special and in my estimation, limited to a few people.

6.

karen

September 26, 2005, 1:15 PM

hi everyone
i wanted to respond to these crit comments, since some pertain to me. i agree wholeheartedly that honest crits are a Good Thing, especially when they are done thoughtfully, respectfully and in person. what i meant by my comment at artivistic was that i see my blog is mainly about my own stuff, and because of that i don't feel it's my job to crit others' work 'on the blog'. i may state an opinion but it's just that. i'm not an art critic and don't want to be. i don't have a problem with people that do that, just that i'm not interested in it myself. that said, my artivistic post (which will appear momentarily if flickr can get done with its 'massage') isn't all hearts and flowers. but again, it's my opinion, not a formal criticism, iyswim.

7.

oldpro

September 26, 2005, 1:30 PM

I don't understand "mythical but non-specific" George. he is neither mythical nor non-specific. I named him. Or am I misunderstanding something again?

Karen, you are not obliged to do anything with your blog but what you want to do with it.

8.

George

September 26, 2005, 1:55 PM

We all have an "artist much admired"
I was being non-specific, meaning I wasn't just referring to Caro, but any artist of stature.

9.

Matty

September 26, 2005, 2:39 PM

#1
...if there are a couple of hundred art blogs in town

Is this a realistic possibility?

#3
In one case you're probably helping that person, in the other you're, at least arguably, hurting them (or at least hurting their feelings).

Oh no, not hurt feelings! If an artist is worried about getting their feelings hurt by a bad review, in person or in print, they should go into a business that does not invite criticism (which is what you invite when you present ANY kind of work to the public).

I suspect that people like Franklin, who are willing to be negative even when it may be against their interests, will tend to be outnumbered as time goes on.

People like Franklin, quite plainly, ARE outnumbered. That's the shame of the art world today.

#4
Caro is a great scavenger... he's smart enough to know that a good idea is a good idea, even if you didn't come up with it. You've gotta take whatever you can get, from wherever you can get it, to make your art better, ego be damned. Criticism includes positive and negative aspects, and both are needed... Franklin's guideline could be adjusted to "Address the Art, not the Artist"... no excuses for complaints of 'hurt feelings'.

#5
The kernel at the centre of George's unclear point here is a good one. Artists don't get criticism because people are too in awe of them, or don't want to 'hurt their feelings' so they don't offer their opinions. This too is to the shame of the art world. Forget hurt feelings, forget sacred cows, and just report your experience honestly. It shouldn't be so hard to ask this of people, but such honesty has certainly fallen out of fashion.

#6
Karen, I haven't read your blog (and am not in the market for a new blog to waste even more of my time on, so please excuse me for passing on it), and of course you should (and no doubt will) write what you please... but to say "i may state an opinion but it's just that. i'm not an art critic and don't want to be" is a dodge and a cop out. if you look at art, and form an opinion on its relative success or falure, you are in at least some way being an art critic... and if you publish that opinion, then you are most definitely, unquestionably, being an art critic. Insisting somehow that it doesn't really count, that it's not a "formal criticism" (whatever that means), is meaningless.

I hope (but doubt) it goes without saying that I'm offering my observations as dispassionate criticism, and if I've hurt anyone's feelings with anything I've posted on this blog, then I sincerely guess you'll just have to suck on it.

10.

George

September 26, 2005, 3:11 PM

re#9. if you read carefully, what I said in #5 is quite precise and not the same as your "sum up"

11.

oldpro

September 26, 2005, 3:39 PM

Matty, I second just about everything you said there. Now I don't have to say any of it. Thanks.

However, I am sure that in due time you will be reminded that you are just not a very nice person at all. As Ms said above: "Oh yeah! Well.... you are stupid! Your mom dresses you funny AND you stink!"

12.

oldpro

September 26, 2005, 3:42 PM

BTW sad news. For those of you who knew him, Tom Gormley died last night.

I am very sad about this. I liked Tom. He was a nice guy with a great sense of humor and he had an excellent eye.

13.

Franklin

September 26, 2005, 4:17 PM

Aw, hell. Tom Gormley signed off on my graduate thesis. My condolences to his family and colleagues.

14.

karen

September 26, 2005, 6:03 PM

matty
i see what you're sayng (to a point) though i don't fancy the notion of 'art critic' in terms of expressing an opinion on my blog. if i like something and think others might be interested, i say so, if i don't like something i usually ignore it (in terms of writing about it) unless it really irritates me. silence is a form of criticism as well, i believe.

in terms of my blog, i mostly write about my own stuff, which i stated quite clearly at artivistic both days, or so i thought. if i express an opinion on someone's work i see that as being quite different from assuming the role of 'art critic'. and i happily stand by my opinions, rightly or wrongly. i don't expect them to be taken as though they are a serious critique of someone's work any more than my opinion on the merits of chicken over fish (which i think is revolting, by the way) or why i like dark chocolate as opposed to white chocolate.

i'm not saying art criticism isn't valuable and i'm not trying to trivialise the discussion; i take art very seriously, especially my own. it's more that i think there is a difference between liking or not liking something and saying so on a blog as opposed to giving it a critical interrogation, if others choose to do that and want to get into an in-depth thing about someone's work on their blog or in a mag or whatever, fine and dandy. but personally, i'm not interested in doing it in any depth on my blog. it requires more time than i am willing to give. i'm not interested. as you say, reading so many blogs is a time suck; so is spending lots of time writing about other people's work, unless that's what floats your boat. if that's a cop out in your opinion, then o-well. i can live with it.
cheers, smashing, all the best.

15.

ms quoted

September 26, 2005, 8:14 PM

I prefer dark bittersweet Bernard Callebaut baking chocolate.

16.

mek

September 26, 2005, 8:16 PM

WHAT?! Gormley died??? my husband was very good friends with him........

17.

that guy

September 26, 2005, 8:21 PM

Its a shame about Tom. We shared some great conversations and laughs. You will be sorely missed down here. God speed Tom.

18.

Franklin

September 26, 2005, 8:26 PM

Speaking of chocolate, my traveling companion and I had the most amazing hot chocolate at Suite 88, including a "chocolat intensive" that somewhat resembled a thick Italian cioccolato caldo, but made with milk chocolate and prepared a touch thinner. This followed what may have been the best vegan food I've ever eaten at Chuchai.

I'm sorry this is interweaving with Tom's passing. But knowing Tom, he would have approved.

19.

ahab

September 26, 2005, 11:14 PM

My sincere condolences on the loss of your friend.

Franklin, socialists of the Canadian sort aren't particularly worrisome. Except that currently they are leaderless, and seem to suffer just now from more than the usual apathy. I did a crossword the other week that had a quote embedded in it, author unknown: "I am more afraid of an army of one hundred sheep led by one lion than an army of one hundred lions led by one sheep." Nothing to be afraid of here at all.

No, the follower types definitely shouldn't engage in criticism, especially when they confuse it so easily with pessimism or negativity. Art criticism is informed opinion, and informed opinion is a form of leadership when publicized. I don't buy alesh's assertion that posting an opinion on a blog is a hurtful act. I counter-assert that the accumulation of diverse opinions results in new and better understanding, especially when tempered by some cool, experienced, hungry opiners. Even on a blog.

20.

craigfrancis

September 27, 2005, 12:08 AM

nicely done ahab. fucking godless socialists preaching economic and social equality are the last thing we need. unfortunately, franklin, he's right, there isn't really much to fear.

21.

ahab

September 27, 2005, 12:25 AM

nix "Except that"

Hi, craigfrancis. I think you have a dribble of sarcasm there on the side of your mouth.

22.

ahab

September 27, 2005, 12:42 AM

Two more things before reading myself to sleep with "Snowcrash".

The critiques of Olitski and Jeffcoat during the past couple of posts were interesting and refreshing. More readers upgrading their status to commenters by posting their thoughts about the art would only have made the dialogue better.

No, just that one. I forgot the other - may not need to read the novel after all.

23.

Franklin

September 27, 2005, 6:45 AM

Equality I can get down with and atheism doesn't offend me. They just seemed a little misguided. A painter who was there told me that someone at the conference was giving her a hard time because she sells her work. I mean, come on.

The last couple of threads have devolved into chain-yanking. Let's try to keep it smart, please.

24.

Matty

September 27, 2005, 12:48 PM

#10
Yes George, other than the part about "mythical but non-specific" (which you clarified a few posts later, thanks), your post was very precise. I wasn't trying to 'sum it up', but rather was enlarging upon it. If you feel that the REAL kernel of your post #5 was "A one on one critical studio dialog is special and in my estimation, limited to a few people" then I agree... a one on one is limited to a few people, namely two. Good point.

#11
I've long thought that a good way to promote art might be to copy a professional sports model... you know, build rivalries between towns, have teams in matching jerseys (the Edmonton Oil-paint-ers, maybe)... but olpro, your comment makes me think instead of Hockey, maybe we should think about tag-team wrestling instead.

#14
Karen, Thanks for taking my criticsm so graciously; you can serve as a fine example to those out there who worry about 'hurt feelings'. I think you really do see what I'm saying, that taking a critical position is not something you should feel the need to apologize for. And I think I understand what you're saying, that you don't want to be thought of as a 'critic' because that's not the focus of your blog, to which I of course say, fair enough, its your blog, and you should (and will) do what you want. Cheers.

25.

George

September 27, 2005, 2:54 PM

Matty re #24,#5
The initial part of my remark followed on oldpro's and was a general observation about the lack of response from one part of the public, generally as a result of some degree of hero worship or fear of looking stupid. Given human psychology, this seems normal and unsuprising.

The second part dealt more specifically with an artists colleagues, his or her peers. The difference here is that an artists peers, who would probably know the artist, would potentially have something instructive or probing to say and yet withhold a response. I have seen this occur a number of times, in some cases hearing the "after crit" which might have been helpful to the artist. I suspect this will always be the case, as again it is human nature.

The third part refers to something different than a criticism or critique from outside. I was referring to a critical dialog, a discourse between two artists, who can establish mutual respect for each others point of view. One might call it brainstorming for the lack of a better word, regardless it is the most productive dialogue of the three. One characteristic of this type of discourse is the willingness to agree to disagree. Disagreement is not experienced as an attack but a different viewpoint. The artist can then compare this point of view with his or her set of internal references. Where the observations fit they are useful, where they don't, they are viewed as outside of the working dialog. (BTW, I'd say, typically it's one on one, but it isn't a requirement)

26.

Matty

September 27, 2005, 10:46 PM

Ok George, this time I will attempt a 'sum-up':

Your part one has members of the public not giving an honest response to artwork...

Your part two has artist collegues not giving an honest response to artwork also...

Your part three has artists actually giving honest responses to each other...

Clearly, the important difference between both parts one & two, compared to part three, is not WHO the participants are, or HOW MANY people are involved (or where the 'dialogue' takes place, or any other red herring)... the importance lies in the approach to the dialogue.. the honesty involved, the understanding that each person speaks only for themselves, the understanding that "hurt feelings" shouldn't enter into it, that there is simply no arguing taste, to put it simply, that we do not choose our aesthetic responses, so it is pointless to argue about them.

This may not be the point you were trying to get at... regardless, it is the point that I think is worth getting at.

27.

George

September 28, 2005, 12:44 AM

Matty, re #26 You getting there.
I would say, that in the first two cases the response is truncated, therefor not complete. This may or may not have anything to do with honesty in the context of the response.

In the third part we assume the artists are giving an honest response to one another, the basis for this is trust and knowledge of the other person. Hurt feelings are not an issue in any of this as I am assuming that most participants use a modicum of sensitivity.

But when we come to we do not choose our aesthetic responses, so it is pointless to argue about them is where I fundamentally disagree. While it is true that we do not choose our aesthetic responses I would not be so cavalier as to assume that these aesthetic responses are inherent, fixed and not arguable.

Making such an assumption implies that you believe your aesthetic responses are unassailable and therefore unmutable. The problem occurs when one considers the aesthetic response of the viewer, the audience. An artwork is not complete without an audience. The potential exists that our aesthetic response, while valid personally, exist as a delusion in the larger audience.

A degree of delusion is quite helpful in maintaining the forward vision which allows you to produce the work. In most cases a reality check every now and then is a good idea.

28.

Oldpro

September 28, 2005, 8:38 AM

You are going way beyond what Matty said, George. He did not imply that one's esthetic responses were "unnassailable". "inherent", "fixed", "immutable" and such like. He merely said that they were not rationally chosen, any more that ones reaction to a joke is rationally chosen. They are unwilled, and because they are unwilled they cannot be directly changed through rational discourse.

You and I had a complete disagreement about Olitski recently. I made no effort to "convince" you that the paintings in his recent show were good paintings. I could put a gun to your head, or argue with Aristotelian logic, and somehow get you to say "Yes, these must be great paintings", but it would not be a felt response; It would not be an esthetic response. The only real "argument" is" go look again".

Whether one's response is a "delusion in the larger audience" may be interesting to talk about but it is completely beside the point in this context.

29.

George

September 28, 2005, 10:05 AM

re#28 He did not imply that one's esthetic responses were "unassailable". "inherent", "fixed", "immutable" and such like.

That is correct. It is what I am suggesting is an implication of Mattys remark that there is simply no arguing taste, to put it simply, that we do not choose our aesthetic responses, so it is pointless to argue about them.

So in a situation where two viewers disagree about a work we should accept that it is a 1 to 1 tie, a Mexican standoff and go feed the cat?

30.

ahab

September 28, 2005, 11:19 AM

A "Mexican standoff" is not a duel. It is one on one on one (ad infinitum), all guns drawn, last man standing. An inapt (sic) description for a critique scenario. But very like a weblog thread.

31.

George

September 28, 2005, 1:53 PM

re#30; Ahab, ok, I googled it, this is what I meant:
Mexican standoff's origins are not known, but one source supposes that the term, which means `a situation from which nothing at all can be expected,' comes ...
www.takeourword.com/et_k-m.html

Not a big deal but my point is that when there are two competing aesthetic responses which contradict one another, it suggests that further inquiry might be desirable. Or, one can just say "Screw it, I'm right" and go feed the cat. Puts a cork in the dialog.

32.

Matty

September 28, 2005, 2:30 PM

To feed the cat, or to swear at the dog... that is the question.

33.

Matty

September 28, 2005, 9:36 PM

But George, surely you see that you and Oldpro's disagreement over Olitski cannot be 'solved' through discussion. OP likes the work, you do not. Arguing can't change an HONEST reaction... it may convince you to take another look at the work though... and in relooking you may have a NEW reaction, but it is the perception of the work, and not the argument about it, that brings about that reaction.
You are the only judge of what you like (and it goes should go without saying that such judgments ARE mutable).

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