Notes about criticism

May 23, 2011 permalink

We were basically trying to see if we could get each other to drop out of school.

Mike Monteiro of Mule Design on attending art school:

But the skill I picked up in school that turned out to be the most valuable was learning how to take a punch. We had these insane critiques where we’d trash each other viciously. We took pride in how brutal we could be to one another. I think it went way beyond constructive. It was an art form in itself. We were basically trying to see if we could get each other to drop out of school. And professors were the worst—we had one guy who’d slash paintings, which is completely devastating, right? I mean you work your ass off on something and your teacher just walks up to it and literally rips it to shreds. It’s kind of magnificent. And afterwards, we’d all go off and drink and have sex with another. But those critiques taught me how to not take criticism personally. It was always about the work. And if the work quality wasn’t there you were marked for demolition.

Yep, sounds about right. The ability to take (and work from) criticism was one of the few life-skills I directly picked up from my undergraduate art background, too.

No one ever literally slashed my paintings, but one professor did tell us during a mid-semester critique that he thought the class’s work as a whole was like “a giant ball of shit rolling downhill, getting bigger.” Fun times!

(Hat tip to Austin Kleon)

April 14, 2010 permalink

Whenever Humans Design and Make a Useful Thing

Whenever humans design and make a useful thing they invariably expend a good deal of unnecessary and easily avoidable work on it which contributes nothing to its usefulness. Look, for instance, at the ceiling. It is flat. It would have been easier not to have made it flat. Its being flat does not make you any warmer or the room about you any quieter, nor yet does it make the house any cheaper; far from it. Since there is a snobbism in these things flattening a ceiling is called workmanship, or mere craftsmanship; while painting gods on it or putting knobs on it is called art or design. But all these activities: ‘workmanship,’ ‘design for appearance,’ ‘decoration,’ ‘ornament,’ ‘applied art,’ ‘embellishment,’ or what you will are part of the same pattern of behavior which all men at all times and places have followed: doing useless work on useful things. If we did not behave after this pattern our life would indeed by poor, nasty and brutish.

January 13, 2010 permalink

This Presents an Interesting Problem Caricature

This presents an interesting problem. Caricature has never been taken as seriously as realism. The history of Western art, with the exception of the dark ages and the 20th century, has always been derived from realism, and the art of the dark ages probably had more to do with the loss of knowledge and craft than with a conscious artistic choice. Caricature might be seen as clever, but except for artists, nobody values caricature as more than a lightweight diversion. Disney moved more towards illustration when he went into features. The all-cgi features have pushed their visuals towards greater complexity (which sometimes clashes with their character designs). Video games have also gravitated towards realism. I believe that this has been motivated by a desire to be taken more seriously by getting closer to what Western eyes value in art.

From Mark Mayerson’s thoughtful post on Avatar’s use of mocap versus keyframe animation, why James Cameron and Peter Jackson can do it successfully (and artfully) but Robert Zemeckis fails at it (the zombie-eyed children of Polar Express, A Christmas Carol), and whether the rift between traditional animation and performance capture speaks to something deeper in the history of representational art.

April 26, 2009 permalink

Certainly Knowledge Comes from Traditional

Certainly, knowledge comes from traditional sources, such as school and books, but it also comes from non-traditional sources like experiences and conversations. Personally, I’m fond of the immersion technique when it comes to learning.


I think one of the most important things that my career path has taught me is that it is it very important to respect all kinds of art, whether I like it or not. It is not the difference between good or bad art, it is that art comes in different forms and qualities. I like to think of art as a document or reflection of our time. The more able an artist is to make a clear statement, the more lasting it will become. Artists often project ideas on a piece of work, but I think a work’s impact is stronger when a artist can project a broader conceptual belief.


It takes a second act to understand the first. My interest in art, architecture and music are all constantly informing my work. It is about submerging yourself in something you believe in. I guess the main function of a first act is to flush out ideas – to experiment and refine wheat I think my work should be. A second act allows for self-imposed rules and regulations. It gives me the ability to say no to ideas that are not genuine and complete. I often think of the legendary story of Johnny Cash walking into Sun Studio to record gospel songs. Sam Phillips told him to “go out and sin a little and then come back.” He came back “experienced” and became a legend.

Scott Ingram, Work Ethic. ART LIES no. 61, p65.

March 22, 2009 permalink

In College I Focused on Printmaking a Lot of My

IN COLLEGE, I focused on printmaking. A lot of my work is actually a kind of reaction to printmakers. They’re territorial and they don’t understand art the same way I do. They look at it pictorially and miss the essence of what they do, which lies in the technical process – using specific chemicals and materials and pressing them together. You can control that in certain ways; you can do things graphically and physically that are worth doing as an artist. Printmaking is an easy way to get going. It’s procedural. It’s like the process of a singer warming up, preparing, thinking; that’s how Keith Richards writes songs, in the process of tuning his guitar. I’ll sit here and paint any number of silk screens. They change as I print. The ink falls out and some more comes through and so on, as I use it again.

Josh Smith, in Josh Smith Talks About Currents 2008–, Artforum International XLVII, No. 6, February 2009, p162.

January 10, 2009 permalink

Slot Machines Are Indeed a Software Chimera the

[Slot machines] are indeed a software chimera, the tail of a serpent attached to the head of a lion. It combines business graphics with the Internet, cinematic memory, remote-control systems – and banking, franchise capitalism at your fingertips.

Norman M. Klein, in The Electronic Baroque: 1955-2050. From The Vatican to Vegas, 2004 p341.

January 10, 2009 permalink

Museums Would Map the Transition Toward This New

Museums would map the transition toward this new Baroque, like the new Guggenheims in Las Vegas, as part of a franchise that has stopped growing in the U.S. Museums were also under the gun. Very likely, shows will look more like Baroque wunderkammers than they used to. They will overlap and sprawl more, like browsers and search engines. The pressures to make shows monumentalize the new power relations will be intense, an often under shrinking curatorial budges, with signature buildings outside, like the Electronic Baroque: gaudy outside, conservative at its core.

Norman M. Klein, in The Electronic Baroque: 1955-2050. From The Vatican to Vegas, 2004 p338.

December 23, 2008 permalink

In 1903 the Specialty Watch Company Helios Built

In 1903, the specialty watch company Helios built a trial run of miniature Boilerplates. The master of the hoax, an expert on Victorian automata, Paul Guinan, “tried” to “rebuild” one of these. The head resembles gas masks that soldiers wore in World War I, but as ornamental brass. The chest is as tubular as a Franklin stove, but gleaming with Baroque detail. Its knobby limbs were fully articulated , like an armature for special effect stop-motion seventy years later, or a thing in The City of Lost Children. […] For over a century, thousands of boilerplates have come down to us. They wait patiently. Patience has always been a virtue of the boilerplate; and of all hoaxes, including the Wizard of Oz himself.

Norman M. Klein, in Building the Unexpected. From The Vatican to Vegas, 2004 p179.

December 5, 2008 permalink

Potemkin Villages Were a New Mode of Special

Potemkin villages were a new mode of special effects as power, as the erasure of memory in the late eighteenth century. But the principle evolves beyond one’s wildest imagination. All movie sets are Potemkin villages before they are shot as film. And all wars since 1989 have become Potemkin villages when they appear on global media. And yet, Baroque special effects already pointed toward this problem by 1650, that Baroque illusion served uneasy alliances to cover up the decay and misery of the kingdom.

Norman M. Klein, in Scripted Spaces and the Illusion of Power, 1550-1780. From The Vatican to Vegas, 2004 p131

December 5, 2008 permalink

Comenius Begins His Story with a Pilgrim Who Is

Comenius begins his story with a pilgrim who is given mystic spectacles. But the lenses are cursed, ground by Illusion, rims hammered by Custom. Optical gimmicks were pervasive in many churches and theaters by 1622. Perspective could be accelerated or decelerated by tilting floors, narrowing walls, adding a deep focal point. Special effects were featured on ceilings: trompe l'oeil, accelerated perspective, anamorphosis – to induce a moment of wonder – a “vertigo” when the lid of a building simply dissolved. To many, these phantasms were progress, practical advances. But to Comenius, they might be the serpent’s eye.

Indeed in Labyrinth of the World, the spectacles distort God’s nature. To quote Shakespeare, the are “almost the natural man … [but] Dishonour traffics with man’s nature.” They are a prosthesis upon the eye, as McLuhan would say. To Comenius, they are an evil, not a cheerful global village. They make true distances vanish; ugly turns beautiful; black becomes white. However, luckily for Comenius’s pilgrim, these demonic spectacles do not fit properly. He can sneak looks below the rim, see the human labyrinth as it really is. If this were film, I would call what the pilgrim finds beneath his spectaceds Baroque noir, the town with no soul.

Norman M. Klein, in Scripted Spaces and the Illusion of Power, 1550-1780. From The Vatican to Vegas, 2004 p112. Describing a story from Comenius’s The Labyrinth of the World.

October 7, 2008 permalink

Suspicious As a Generator of Disquiet May Be Found

Suspicious as a generator of disquiet may be found in certain contemporary paintings when a simple house, seen in an ambiguous light, and isolated against the landscape, becomes haunted and takes on a threatening and malign air […] The Kafka of The Trial was a master of suspicioun, but sometimes (as in Metamorphosis) what is uncanny is not so much the horror that is shown and described 9a man wakes up to find he has been transformed into a disgusting insect), but the fact that his family take the event as embarrassing yet entirely natural, and we suspect that the story is really talking about our acquiescence in the face of the evil that surrounds us.

Umberto Eco, On Ugliness, p323.

October 7, 2008 permalink

Can You Explain to Me Why when We Defecate We

‘Can you explain to me why, when we defecate, we often examine our excrement?’ Aesop explained: 'In olden days there was a king’s son who, because of his life of luxury, spent most of his time sitting and shitting. Once he remained seated thus so long that, having forgotten what he was doing, he shat his own common sense. From that day forward, men shit hunched over, being careful not to crap away their own common sense. But don’t you worry: you can’t shit something you don’t possess!’

Anonymous, The Aesop Romance, quoted in Umberto Eco, On Ugliness, p134.

October 7, 2008 permalink

And to Thee Nothing Is Whatsoever Evil Yea Not

And to Thee nothing is whatsoever evil: yea, not only to Thee, but also to Thy creation as a whole, because there is nothing without, which may break in, and corrupt that order which Thou hast appointed it. But in the parts thereof some things, because unharmonising with other some, are accounted evil: whereas those ver things harmonise with others, and are good; and in themselves are good. And all these things which harmonise not together, do yet with the inferior part, which we call Earth, having its own cloudy and windy sky harmonising with it. Far be it then that I should say, ‘These things should not be’: for indeed long for the better; but still must even for these alone praise Thee; for that Thou are to be praised , do show from the earth, dragons, and all deeps, fire, hail, snow, ice, and stormy wind, which fulfil Thy word […]

St. Augustine, The Confessions, VII, quoted in Umberto Eco, On Ugliness, p48.

October 7, 2008 permalink

The Poets Have Utilized What Are Called Solecisms

The poets have utilized what are called solecisms and barbarisms; they have preferred, by changing the names, to call them figures and transformations, rather than avoid them as evident errors. Well, take them out of poetry, and we would miss the most melodious sweetness. Gather many together in a single composition, and it will vex me because all will be mawkish, pedantic, affected […] The order that governs and moderates such things would not tolerate their being too many, nor too few. A humble and almost disregarded discourse highlights elevated expressions and elegant movements, alternating between one and the other.

St. Augustine, On Order, IV. Quoted in Umberto Eco, On Ugliness, p47.

July 6, 2008 permalink

Every Urban Population Believes in Having It Owns

Every urban population believes in having it owns collective psychology. One can ridicule this belief, but it has produced a lot of poetry, music and cinema that we are accustomed to valuing. The volume of poems about Parisian air or St. Petersburg’s weather is a sufficient justification for their architecture. However, if we don’t speak about art that is stimulated by a city but about art in the public space, then one should be very careful. The chance that any really good artwork can go through all possible channels that evaluate it is minimal. And, in general, art that is exhibited outside of arts institutions has to additionally identify itself as art. That makes art shown in the public space even more conservative than art shown within the framework of institutions.

Boris Groys, quoted in “6 Questions for Boris Groys”, Art Lies no. 58, p. 19

June 28, 2008 permalink

It Is Not Important at All to Me That You or

It is not important at all to me that you or anyone else should have this or that knowledge of anything written or recorded about my pictures of anyone else’s. It’s about experiencing the pictures, not understanding them. People now tend to think their experience of art is based in understanding the art, whereas in the past people in general understood the art and were maybe more freely able to absorb it intuitively. They understood it because it hadn’t yet separated itself off from the mainstream of culture the way modern art had to do. So I guess it is not surprising that, since that separation has occurred, people try to bridge it through understanding the oddness of the various new art forms. Cinema seems more of less still in the mainstream, as if it never had a ‘secession’ of modern or modernist artists against that mainstream. So people don’t trend to be so emphatic about understanding films, they tend to enjoy them and evaluate them: great, good, not so good, two thumbs up, etc. Although that can be perfunctory and dull, it may be a better form of response. Experience and evaluation – judgment – are richer responses than gestures of understanding or interpretations.

Jeff Wall, excerpted from ‘An email exchange between Jeff Wall and Mike Figgis’, Contemporary, no. 65, 2005

May 9, 2008 permalink

The Street in the Extended Sense of the Word Is

The street, in the extended sense of the word, is not only the arena of fleeting impressions and chance encounters but a place where the flow of life is bound to assert itself. Again, one will have to think mainly of the city street with its ever-moving crowds. The kaleidoscopic sights mingle with unidentified shapes and fragmentary visual complexes and cancel each other out, thereby preventing the onlooker from following up any of the innumerable suggestions they offer. What appeals to him are not so much sharp-contoured individuals engaged in this or that definable pursuit as loose throngs of sketch, completely indeterminate figures. Each has a story, yet the story is not given. Instead an incessant flow casts its spell over the flâneur, or even creates him. The flâneur is intoxicated with life in the street – life eternally dissolving the patterns which it is about to form. […]

Siegfried Kracauer, Die Fotografie (1927), translated by Thomas Y. Levin. Quoted in The Cinematic from MIT Press, p.82.