you are here [x]: Scarlet Star Studios > the Scarlet Letters > how to have an opinion about art
<< before script: mud & metal
after >> explorations in super8

January 10, 2006

how to have an opinion about art

by gl. at 4:13 pm

one of the hardest things about being an artist's way facilitator is having an opinion about art. i used to be incredibly critical & cynical, but one of the great things artist's way gave me was kinder eyes towards the art of others. as rob has said, "'bad' art is often a preliminary stage, larval -- even embryonic -- for the good stuff. We can help to guide it along, give it sunlight and water and sing to it, or we can crush it, piss on it, darken hopes and souls." i'm very much of the opinion that artist's way is less about Art and more about living a more creative life, and part of that involves a certain amount of forgiveness and generosity, both for yourself & others. it's like being able to taste the love in a homemade pumpkin pie, even if it has too much dark molasses in it.

when facilitating, i don't have an opinion at all about the art that gets made because artist's way is about the process, not the result. but i also believe there are legitmate uses for criticism, and i was really conflicted about how to legitimately like or dislike a piece of art w/o betraying my neutrality as a facilitator or the tenets of artist's way.

on thursday i think i finally figured it out. i went for an artwalk on first thursday with a group that was initially enthusiastic but became discouraged pretty quickly, rolling their eyes and raising their eyebrows & crossing their arms, moving to a bar to complain about the state of the art world. i have to admit, a lot of art gallery art doesn't usually appeal to me, but it often inspires me to make my own, and i like to immerse myself in all the influences. but the stumbling block for the group was hildur bjarnadóttir's "overlap" and its neighbor, victoria haven's "the lucky ones," both understated, abstract & geometrical, with distinct flavours of portland grunge. the group felt these pieces were lazy and obvious and incomprehensible as Art. i didn't really like them, either, but i didn't as actively dislike them and the strongly negative group reaction disturbed me. i didn't feel like i wanted to have to defend a show i didn't feel strongly about. can you dislike something and still be glad it exists?

later that night i discovered the key is to give yourself a chance to engage with the art before deciding whether you like or dislike it. after you've applied some form of response to it (like, say, the phenomenological/aesthetic/artistic responses i introduce in the creative clusters :), then you can hate it. but to hate it on a purely visual level means you're viewing it as entertainment, not art. we often say a piece doesn't "speak" to us, but often we don't try to talk to it; we just look at it and move on. if you view art as a form of creative self-expression, you have an obligation to try to engage with it, to ask questions, to look for the story. this is where viewer/artist collaboration can happen, and it should be the artist's obligation to help with that process (unfortunately, most artist statements distance the viewer even further). if after attempting to respond to the piece it still doesn't work for you, then fine! but now you have more to base your opinion on than whether your 4-year-old niece could make something better.

the other part of the solution, which came a couple of days later, was finally settling into a workable distinction between creation, craft & art. st. francis of assisi wrote, "he who works with his hands is a laborer. he who works with his hands and his head is a craftsman. he who works with his hands and his head and his heart is an artist."

aha! so if the mystery ingredient for art is heart, an intention of creative self expression, then i can appreciate pieces that don't move me for their craft, or even dislike them if i find myself unable to find their heart. this is a huge relief: not being able to have an opinion about art has made me feel hypocritical and a little schizophrenic. bless you, father; i shall go forth & sin no more.

(btw, my favorite pieces from first thursday were from james jack's "ink" series, a beautiful exploration of calligraphic forms and sink marbling. these pix don't do it justice.)

posted by gl. | January 10, 2006 4:13 PM | categories: artist's way, exhibits & events, writing