Criticism: An Artist's Perspective

Article excerpt

IT IS INTERESTING TO CONSIDER THAT THE SUM of human social institutions and intellectual achievement comes from culture, a term denoting working the earth. Culture, the development of society and its institutions, shapes our behaviour and understanding of the world. It is the opposite of nature, yet not necessarily anti-nature. The argument is not that the natural way is better than the cultivated way since certainly manipulating and harnessing nature represents a turning point for the species and both teach us something about the world and our place in it. The same can be said of the intuitive judgment of a work of art versus that of discursive criticism. The argument is not privileging one over the other but rather what their different outcomes can teach us about ourselves and about art. Both activities tell us something about the world, which makes advocating for an exclusive criticism antithetical to criticism's task.

We were re-invented, Marshall McLuhan might argue, with the invention of the shoe, as it becomes an extension of ourselves (not merely some prosthesis) but as an actual evolution of the species. It is true, with shoes humans can travel greater distances in less time, in greater comfort, giving us the ability to see places we would not otherwise see, changing how we understand the world. With each invention, advancement and scientific discovery, we fulfil previously unknown human capacity. And so it is with criticism, which sharpens our awareness and ability to see. The hermeneutical strategy employs both sides of an argument to better understand and argue its position. Criticism as practiced by critic, artist and reader functions in much the same way, offering an alternative conversation, augmenting, in a hermeneutical sense, our own position.

I find it difficult to compartmentalize my practice and unimaginable to think that they are separable. I make art, think about making art, think about others art, write about art, write about making art, write about writing about art, teach, lecture, lecture about my art, lecture about the art of others, lecture about writing about art, collect things, paint things, read, read about art and so on. As I write this I am thinking about how I think about writing about art, concurrently thinking about how thinking about writings about art informs the way I think about my own art. These activities necessarily filter how I see the world. Perhaps this is why Marcel Duchamp, when asked what is it he did, answered "respirateur"--a breather, he breathes.


We make decisions based on interpretations, interpretation based on knowledge that is formed and reformed through experience. We do not arrive at a situation devoid of previous understanding. Upon entering an environment we consciously and unconsciously make judgments about the appropriate action, based on an interpretation of the available data. Our judgment reflects our capacity for interpreting that data. Reflecting on the outcome of the resulting action parallels critical practice. Art is the representation of this complex, often instantaneous, process--the artists' interpretations of the data at hand. Criticism is the critics' interpretation and subsequent evaluation of the artists' judgment in interpreting that data.


The analogy of an artwork being the judgment of an artist's interpretation is unusual but, nevertheless, is an accurate depiction of the artistic process. Whether looking at a work from a formal or conceptual perspective we examine the artist's choices and motivations based on the premise that an artist chooses one direction over and above another. …