Thursday, 17 March 2011

If Van Gogh had had a blog...

 ...what would the comments have been like?

'Works of art are of an infinite solitariness, and nothing is less likely to bring us near to them than criticism. Only love can apprehend and hold them, and can be just towards them'. – Rainer Maria Rilke

Some years ago I owned a book called, ‘No More Secondhand Art’ by Peter London, and the sub-title was ‘Awakening the Artist Within.’ It’s one of the many books that I’ve been so enthusiastic about that I lent it to a friend – and never got it back! But the opening passage has always stuck in my mind; it’s an account of an experiment in which several well-known Art Critics decided to paint a picture. The results were technically accomplished but there was a certain something lacking, something ‘vital’ in every sense of the word.

I’ll say from the start that I’m not a great fan of Art Critics.

'A painting in a museum probably hears more foolish remarks than anything else in the world.' Edmonde Jules do Goncourt

When I lived in Norwich and went to a great many Private Views, there was one ‘critic’ often present, who seemed to inspire a quite unwarranted amount of awe! He dressed flamboyantly in a fedora, with a scarf tossed casually over his shoulder – you know the sort of thing? - what I’d call a bit of a ‘poser’ ; he’d arrive late at the opening and sweep in majestically and many would hang on his every word. On one occasion, at one of the Art School’s end-of-year exhibitions, I happened to be standing close enough to hear what he was saying and, honestly, it was a load of pretentious baloney!

Rather like this youtube clip by French & Saunders!

I recently received an invitation to a Private View of posthumous work by William Brown and for once I read the ‘blurb’ inside.

‘The design of his pictures might be glaringly simple, the colour dazzlingly pure and the calligraphy – squiggles for waves, zigzags for pine trees – instantly readable by a child, but the meanings remain tantalisingly elusive.’  - Laura Gascoigne, art critic.

What if there were no ‘meanings’? What if the artist was just ‘taking us all for a ride’? I found it hilarious!

And I wonder what qualifies someone to call themselves an ‘Art Critic?’ Do they really have some kind of expertise that the rest of us lack? Are they the sole arbiters of what’s good and great in the art world? I think not – any more than the ‘judges’ on the currently popular, somewhat masochistic TV contests, such as ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ and 'X-factor' are genuinely in a position to ‘judge’ talent. Time and again, the votes from the public reveal that the judges have entirely misjudged what people en masse, and uninhibited by considerations of status, honestly enjoy!

'I don't know anything about art, but I know what I like'. - Gelett Burgess

As far as I’m concerned, a work of art succeeds inasmuch someone, maybe just one single person, gets pleasure from, or is moved by it.

But what about the practice of artists ‘critiquing’ one another’s work?
Surely that’s helpful, surely it can help us improve our work? Maybe. Sometimes. Maybe, if you, the artist, aren’t satisfied with what you’ve produced and are at a loss to know how to make it better.  Just sometimes a suggestion from another person may be able to unlock something within you that frees up what you wanted to do in the first place. But I think this is quite rare.
There may be a time when our technical abilities are holding us back, when a tweak to the perspective, for instance, can make all the difference. But would we even dream of suggesting that Picasso could benefit from going back to a Life Class to improve his drawing on the basis of his ‘Les Demoiselles d’Avignon’, even if he hadn’t already demonstrated his drawing competence in many of his earlier paintings!

What I think is more important is to get into the habit of self-assessment. And no, I’m not talking about listening to that Inner Critic who will be sure to tell you that your work is anything from ‘just not good enough’ to ‘downright rubbish’! ‘Self-appraisal’ is nearer the mark. After all, in our schools and colleges and in many workplaces nowadays, the emphasis has shifted increasingly towards self-appraisal.

Rather than asking the opinions of others, however much we respect them or admire their work, I would suggest cultivating the habit of assessing our own work. I don’t think it’s difficult or complicated; it’s simply a question of asking oneself, sometimes after having left our work for a few days, 'Do I like it? Do I find it satisfying? Is it ‘saying’ what I wanted to say?' Or if it's 'saying' something different, 'was that still something worth saying?'

If you can answer, ‘Yes’ to these questions, then go ahead and make your art public in some way, not for the purpose of criticism (or praise!) and especially not for the euphemism, ‘feedback’! But simply to give pleasure to others or maybe to make them stop in their tracks! Some will like your work, some will relate to it and others will not. But does it really matter? Just as we cannot expect everybody to like us, there will be those who don’t ‘connect’ with our work. As long as our art is an honest expression of ourselves, and not 'secondhand', does that really matter?

You are of course, very welcome to disagree with me – your comments are always welcome, but do watch this first!


art2cee2 said...

LOVE this post! It is so true. Art is all relative anyway. Paint with your heart. Let your creative spirit run free. Paint because you must not because you want accolades. Van gogh is one of my favorite artists and he never sold anything. Now his paintings bring the most money. It's all opinions and those who hang on art critics words are just followers and afraid to be their own person. :-)

Judy Adamson said...

Thank you, art2cee2. I think it's worth keeping Van Gogh in mind when our work doesn't seem to be bringing in an income!

Terry Heath said...

Great post, Judy. The whole thing about Van Gogh not selling his paintings is sort of depressing since many dream of our art supporting us, but your point is well taken. I think of Thomas Kinkade; it irritates me that many of the houses in his paintings are lopsided, but he does quite well. On the other hand, I see beautiful artwork sitting unsold on eBay and Etsy. I guess it all comes down to what the artist wants, or at least how well the artist knows how to market.

Judy Adamson said...

Hi Terry - thank you for your visit and your comment. You make an important but, in some ways, sad point about artists knowing how to market. Art, like music, poetry and so many other things comes down to personal taste but to make money from one's art almost always depends on the marketing of it, part of which may involve pleasing the critics.

John Briner said...

Hi, Judy! Your post is truly inspiring. I think art shouldn't be critiqued as well since it is subjective and the end result largely depends on the emotions and mood of the artist. You made a good point when you said that a suggestion from another person is good if the artist feels that his or her work is lacking something that he/she can't point out himself. But, the thing is, those they find lacking are sometimes the ones that further give depth to their artworks. This is truly a great post. Hope to see and read more of your musings.

Judy Adamson said...

Hi John - thank you very much for stopping by and for your comments. As you say, art is bound to be subjective so the effect it has on others will be subjective too. Nobody can really say with any authority whether a piece is good or bad, only whether they like it or not, whether it 'speaks' to them or not.

Boriana Giormova said...

I loved reading this post Judy! This quote is my favourite: 'I don't know anything about art, but I know what I like'.

Judy Adamson said...

Thank you for commenting, Boriana. Glad you enjoyed this post. And yes, that's a great quote, isn't it! :)