The Morning After – Reflecting on Critical Chaos

I imagine myself as “the common (wo)man” visiting the strange art world and trying to make sense of it.  Although I have attended countless art openings and some of them as an exhibitor of the art myself, I felt strangely alienated from the ritual of “The Art Opening” last night.  Perhaps it is the state of the economy, my fears about the election, my recent brush with personal visual problems, but maybe it was the event itself.  There were many people, some of whom represented the best of the who’s who in the ceramic art world, locally, nationally, and internationally.  Conversation, jokes, banter, speculation, even some dialogue about the art works swirled around the room.  The works themselves, some of them exquisite ceramic art, some of them strange and compelling, when taken all together fit the name of the show:  Critical Chaos.  Perhaps we need an art critic to help us make sense of it all?

OK, “Art Criticism.”  What is it?  On the cusp of attending the Critical Santa Fe symposium I feel it important to set forth my perception of art criticism now, so I can see how it changes after attending the symposium. Art Criticism…I’ll be interested to see how the discussions deal with the inherent negativeness of the word “criticism”…seems to me to be a different art form than the objects it purports to discuss.  While it is parasitic in that it derives it’s sustenance from the visual art objects and the creative process that went into those works, it then uses that sustenance to move in it’s own direction, almost like the materials of the art form “Art Criticism” are the works of art, whereas the materials of the art works were clay, paint, wood, etc.  There are whole books of art criticism that don’t even show pictures of the works of art!  There also seem to be “movements” in art criticism, like movements in painting styles, and of course, there are the personalities, the individual critics, each with their own form of expression.

So here I am an individual ceramic artist attending this symposium about the art form of criticism.  My question to the panelists is…what are the benefits and disadvantages of art criticism to my practice as an artist.  How does this parallel art form rebound to affect my own art.  I keep thinking that possibly the discipline and methods of this other art form “Art Criticism” can be borrowed and applied to my own thinking and analysis of my ceramic art making in a way that will open up new avenues of my own thinking and cause a shift in my work…hopefully for the better, hopefully a paradigm shift.

OK, I’m going to mention one piece in the show.  It was not my favorite piece, although I liked it very much, but was the favorite of several people I talked to.  The piece was a “creamer” by Samuel ManyMules.  (Here I am talking about it without having a picture!) It appears to have been fashioned in a native American traditional manner (hand-built, burnished, pit fired, pitch finished) and the form refers to traditional native American forms as a simple and elegant vessel, slightly off center for the lip of the creamer, but was scaled very large (probably 20 inches tall) and elegantly shaped.  It was different from the more traditional forms you see from this artist in other contexts.  The scale and shape made it into a very contemporary abstract form.  I am wondering why so many people I talked to felt drawn to it above other equally exquisitely or interestingly shaped and fashioned works.  Personally, in thinking of the piece, I feel it provided me a mental bridge between a more earthy reality of its tradition, fashioning method and obvious clayness to the contemporary, intellectual, art object worship.  Perhaps I wasn’t the only one who felt the need to balance in my mind the tactile earthy experience of making and living with clay objects against the “head” experience of the opening?

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