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Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Art Critic

And it's on velvet, no less.                                       
Painted from life no doubt.
So, you'd like to be an art critic? Very well, let me pose a question. Your response will suggest what type of critic you might be and your qualifications for the job: Which is more important in creating (and thus) evaluating art, technical proficiency, or originality of thought? If you chose the first, you would be a very conservative critic. If you chose the second you'd likely be a very negative critic, so hard to please no artist (or anyone else) would give much thought as to what you thought or said. Okay, it was a trick question. Both are important--I'd say equally important, though in fact, few professional art critics (myself included) can claim such an unbiased stance in this regard. The amateur critic often freely admits, "I don't know much about art, but I know what I like." The response to this assertion could best be stated, "You don't know what you like, you just like what you know."
Even the most beautiful scene can be made into bad art.
The Martyrdom of Saint Ursula and
the Eleven Thousand Maidens,
1615-20, Peter Paul Rubens.
Bad art from a good artists.
Most such "wannabe" critics know and like Norman Rockwell. Pardon me while I start a new sentence; they also like Thomas Kinkade (wouldn't want to use both names in the same sentence and thus risk equating the two). I have mentioned several times how I have a personal dislike for virtually all art created by Henri Matisse. Although personal tastes are bound to color any critical assessment of a given work of art, they should not play a conscious role. I would never categorize any painting by Matisse as "bad" art. Moreover, labeling art "good" or "bad" should have nothing to do with personal taste and everything to do with critical evaluation. Several months ago I wrote a fairly comprehensive article on Evaluating Art. That was a kind of "how to" piece dealing with the "nuts and bolts" of critiquing art, concerned not so much with "good" art or "bad" art but in improving art. A critique is an educational tool consisting of artist-viewer interactions, aimed at helping the artist see his or her work more clearly from other points of view, and hopefully do better the next time.
The Museum of Bad Art, Brookline, Massachusetts
Comic artists frequently 
produce the worst of the worst.
The art critic, on the other hand, seldom (perhaps never) interacts with the artist, and in fact, is likely to be so disinterested in the artist personally as to care little whether that artist shows growth or improvement. One might even go so far as to question the critic's objectivity if there were any personal involvement along this line. The critic has a different audience. Although his or her words are quite likely to be read by the artists involved, they are under no obligation to accept the critic's pronouncements, much less apply them to future efforts. The art critic writes for the benefit of his or her readers, advising them as to whether an artist is "worth their time," guiding them in purchasing, and helping them frame their opinions based upon presumably unbiased, professional, knowledgeable, experience in the arts.
Good art may sometimes be unattractive. Bad art is sometimes disgusting.
Bad art strikes both photography
and attempts at humor
In doing all of the above, critics may choose to substantiate their opinions based upon individual works of art; but more often, they evaluate artists themselves, their potential, their collectibility, their consistency, their background, training, experience, point of view, focus, and the validity of what they have to say. Yes, critics also consider an artist's technical skills, first in choosing a medium of expression, and finally as to their expertise in using it. There is no precise order of importance in all of this. As I implied before, theoretically they should all be of equal importance, depending somewhat upon the artist...also depending upon the critic.
Bauern panorama. Old art does not equate to good art.

Sci-fi and eroticism are often
a showcase for bad art
In terms of good, bad, or indifferent art, as I suggested in the original article, there is something of a bell curve. On the left, we see very little truly outstanding art, followed by somewhat more "good" art, a tremendous amount of mediocre art in the middle, with "poor" art and really "bad" art petering out on the right. In that creative communication requires at least adequate, skills, whether in writing, singing, acting, sculpting, painting--whatever--a deficiency in this area inhibits, perhaps even prohibits communication, making the resulting art not just "bad" but worthless. By the same token, and this is more often the case, artists find it easier to concentrate on "how to" rather than the much more difficult "what to" do. Landscape artists, still-life artists, even portrait artist all realize that poor technique is easily identifiable even by the most uninformed viewer. Thus they concentrate upon this area in their studies. They equate "pretty" art, "pleasant" art, even "interesting" art, with good art.
Multi-media and mixed-media are not the same thing.

Fan art is usually horriffic. Poor Harry.
Technical prowess with a given medium does not guarantee "good" art. By the same token, a lack of technical skills can, and often does, guarantee "bad" art. That's why today we so often see an artist mixing media--painted images, words, sculptural surface effects, sounds, attached items, moving parts, lights, video, and mechanical elements (hopefully not all that in a single work of art) but you get the idea. The overriding factor comes down to "whatever works." In other words, an artist can quite reasonably choose the medium in which they are most skillful providing it "works" in conveying their message. One might draw the analogy: a brilliant speech into a "dead" microphone is just as bad as the deafening feedback whine from one that everyone wishes were dead.
Some people should never be allowed near art supplies.

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