Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

In the Spirit of Art Criticism: Reading the Writings of Women Artists

Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

In the Spirit of Art Criticism: Reading the Writings of Women Artists

Article excerpt

"Where's the spirited criticism?" wonders art historian and critic Joanna Frueh (p. 56, 1991). Where's the intuition, the senses, the heart, and the personal experience in the critical process? Where is the courage to seek possibilities, pursue alternatives, and risk departure in our attempts to find meaning, relevance, and value in art? Speaking of orthodox modernist criticism, Frueh says, "I confess, I dislike the airtight cases that the scholar wants to build. They do not let me breathe" (1991, p. 56). From Frueh's perspective, what is needed is a generative criticism, one that seeks possibilities and initiates a search. Writing of her aesthetic and artistic concerns, conceptual artist Adrian Piper concurs with Frueh: "We need to breathe fresh air" (Piper, 1994, p. 295). In her own work, Piper seeks "new information from the outside world," (p. 295) pursuing new sources and alternative approaches that might better articulate her own aesthetic concepts. In sympathy with the assertions of Frueh and Piper is a host of feminist and postmodern scholars who promote an inclusive ongoing search for meaning and value in art, a search that gains its vitality through consideration of an abundance of critical vantagepoints (Burgin, 1984; Deepwell, 1995; Frueh, 1991; Leitch, 1999; Lippard, 1988; Owens, 1984; Piper, 1994).

In sympathy with feminist and postmodern critics, artists, and art historians, a growing chorus of scholars in art education is calling for a criticism that breaks with traditional methodology and seeks new ways to know and appreciate meaning in art (see Blandy & Congdon, 1987; Barrett, 1994; Chalmers, 1992; Clark, 1996; Collins & Sandell, 1984; 1996; Congdon 1991; Freedman, 1994; Garber, 1990, 1996; Geahigan, 1999; Hagaman, 1990; Hamblen, 1991; Hicks & King, 1996; May, 1992; Stout, 1995; 1997; 1999; Stuhr, 1994). The aim of this article is to discuss the instructional possibilities of raising the spirit that has been missing in modernist, or what many educators call "traditional" or "practical" art criticism. Discussion focuses on a newly developed introductory college course in art appreciation and criticism. The course, titled "In the Words of Women Artists," yields credit in fine arts and women's studies.

The course departs from conventional approaches to teaching art appreciation and criticism in two consequential ways. First, the emphasis is on rotating frames of reference. Students are asked to reason and respond from three different perspectives: their own, as both viewers and readers; the perspectives of the artists, as they are intertwined within their visuals and their texts; and those of the critics who write about the artists and their works. Theoretically, the strategy of rotating frames of reference is rooted in research on text. [For comprehensive reviews of text and textuality, see Bernard & Ryan, 1998; Hanks, 1989.] During the processes of shifting their critical vantagepoints, students are drawn into an unbounded interaction among viewer/reader, image and text, and artist/author. Emerging from this interaction is an understanding of the art object as an open entity. Students come to see all works of art as something like sculpture in the round, something that can be conceptually revolved, viewed from many angles. In discussing issues in the organization and interpretation of text and other works (e. g., art), Hanks (1989) purports that around all works there exists a "space of indeterminacy."

Rather than a quality of totality or intelligibility that accrues to the language or to the work, what develops is a hiatus between authorial intent and textual form, a space of indeterminacy that is filled only in the process of reading [critical viewing]. (p. 99)

This course on contemporary women artists and their writings aims to situate students squarely within this space of indeterminacy. The idea is to involve them in considering and integrating multiple perspectives. …

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