Tuesday, January 23, 2007

killjoy?

Digital artist Stan Bowman takes exception to my negative assessment of his work, characterizing me as a killjoy. My offending reviews can be found here (also see pictures) and here. You can read the whole sordid exchange (possibly ongoing) on Lynne Taetzsch's art blog. I'll reproduce my response to Stan in full:

Stan,

Thank you for your response. Believe it or not, I want very much to enjoy your work. (I am not against fun, although I don't think it makes sense as a criterion for all art.) I can sense the pleasure you must take in making it and I want to share in that. But I haven't been able to do so, at least not yet. While it can be difficult to rationalize my instinctive responses to art, I would say that this is because your pieces' sense of fun seems gratuitous and forced. The sensory overload leaves me little room for reflection, little room to do anything other than stare and be amazed (so to speak). I feel bullied into liking the work, something only reinforced by your comments here. But this may be what you want. In that case, yes, you can safely ignore what I have to say.

You write that " no artist is responsible for a viewers experience, enjoyment or entertainment". I would have said "solely responsible". Sure, the viewer is more than a passive receiver of information; they have to construct or re-construct the works significance. To my mind, the most interesting works of art are those that give the viewer a lot of freedom. But to say that that the artist has no responsibility to the viewer is absurd. To make a work of art is to attempt to communicate something, even if that something isn't fully definite. There are surely reasons for putting some things before an audience and not others. It might be more accurate to say that I'm not part of your targeted audience, the people you're working for.

My understanding is that the critic's job is to make some kind of value judgments, to say that some things are working better than others. I try to be self-critical as well as critical of the art. I try to be open-minded, looking beyond my own personal likes and dislikes to try and understand what a work of art is trying to do, where it is coming from. But in the end, I have to make some kind of judgment call, knowing full well that many will disagree. Stan, since you too have worked as a critic, I invite you to describe what art criticism means to you.

As for the issue of computers in art, let me say that as somebody born in 1979, my perspective is inevitably going to be very different from yours. Again, this may just mean that I'm not part of your ideal audience. But I believe my perspective is worth consideration. I grew up with computer games, digital special effects in movies, synthesized music, and so forth. As someone who makes paintings on paper and writes and publishes on a computer, I have some sensitivity to the differences between old and new media. Obviously, computers open up a lot of new and exciting possibilities. But it also makes me skeptical about the role of technological optimism in the arts. Too often, technology is used as a way of masking a lack of skill or a lack of ideas. The latter is what I see in your art, be it new or old-fashioned.

You write that your work's value and meaning is "in the organizations of line, volume, shape, color and texture". I agree, and I'm not opposed to formalism more broadly as an artistic strategy. In fact, as I've said, I think your work is more effective when it is more abstract. But when I see flowers and other easily recognizable forms, I can't help asking why they are there.

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3 Comments:

Anonymous Franklin said...

If anything, you were gentle. Reading Bowman's statement at the sordid exchange linked above, I would counter that it is not enough to feel enamored about your process and subject matter. If you love color, you don't take a More Is Better approach to it. The computer is just another tool regardless of how much one revels in it. And likening Photoshop layers to civilizational or psychic ones is pretty far over the top.

You say you "want very much to enjoy [his] work." Unfortunately, taste is not subject to will, and you called this one right.

11:58 AM  
Anonymous D. said...

I am curious that the artist was not more bothered by the Visual Candy comment.

10:57 AM  
Blogger arthur said...

Franklin,

Thanks for the moral support.

D.

Lynne initially used the phrase "visual candy" as a compliment and as analogous to "abstraction". I thought this was a bit odd and so I used it as part of my criticism. But it may be that Bowman likes candy--as do I, albeit in smaller doses.

11:18 AM  

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