what makes an “artist”?

July 25, 2008 § 7 Comments

Today, Roberta Smith published a harsh review of the show up at the Bronx Museum entitled, ‘How Soon is Now?’ I won’t copy the review here, but I will post some of the harsh highlights (ouch!). Here is one work, by Jeanne Verdoux called “Living Room” that she did actually think was worthy of being called “art.” I haven’t seen the show in person so I can’t really give you my own take on it.

Anyhow, on with the harsh highlights:

apparently, to Smith, only painters know how to make art: “The only relief, initially, are a few paintings or painting-like objects . . . Some nonpainting efforts come into focus with time, but the first impression is a telling lesson in why painting doesn’t die; it is at the very least a good way for young artists to grasp the kind of density of expression that any art medium requires. (It helps to remember that most of the first generation Conceptualists were educated and began their careers as painters.)”

“It does gives me pause that 26 of the 36 artists have master’s degrees in fine arts from respected universities or art schools. I think most of them should ask for their money back. On the evidence here, at least, they have only a meager understanding of what being an artist entails.”

Ok, and one statement that I do agree with: “there is no point in spending time on “professional development” or learning how to advance one’s work in the marketplace if artistic development is not well under way. That requires lots of long, hard looking at all kinds of art, in all mediums, from all periods and cultures. Aspiring artists need to expose themselves to the sheer intensity and variety of art, to learn what they love, what they hate and if they are actually artists at all.”


§ 7 Responses to what makes an “artist”?

  • lizchager says:

    I completely agree with all the points Smith makes in her article, most especially the statement about today’s crop of graduates asking for their money back.

    I attended a forum not so long ago (here in SF), regarding the current state of the art market. The panel included a few applied art professors from well-regarded local universities. I was SHOCKED to hear them lament the fact that their STUDENTS had exerted tremendous pressure to drop the rather minimal art history requirements. More horrifying, the faculty had buckled under that pressure and removed the last required survey courses!

    After a long professional career in another field, I am now practicing artist. Even though I’ve spent a good 40 years looking at and studying art forms from all over the world, I am certainly no expert. Nevertheless, I cannot imagine creating art that communicates effectively without a fundamental (yet evolving) sense of what I think is effective in others work and why. I don’t see how this self-knowledge can be developed except through constant looking, probing and thinking.

    Liz Hager

  • lara says:

    Hi Liz-

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on art-making and being an artist. Did you see the show?

  • lizchager says:

    Regrettably I haven’t lived in NY for 20 years and only get there sporadically. But, even if I did still live there, I doubt I’d go to this show, based on her review.

    I’m finishing up James Elkins’ pamphlet-sized book “What Happened to Art Criticism?,” in which he lauds Roberta Smith in his personal list of most-interesting authors (critics). I’ve read her on and off since late 70s—I’ve always appreciated her thoughtful opinions expressed in a way that I could actually understand. So much of contemporary art criticism either doesn’t express an opinion (it’s merely descriptive) or it’s completely unintelligible.
    Liz Hager

  • That is an interesting image – it looks like, in the exhibit, part of the piece is painted on a screen and part of it is projected onto the screen using light/shadow? I’m not much of an art buff so the best I can do in this comment is express my confusion as to what the image is, exactly, lol.

  • lara says:

    Hi Ari- Yes, the piece is a combination of sculpture and projection. I looked up the artist after seeing this article, and she has some really interesting work. Google her name and you can see more of her work. By the way, I think I am going to make your Rustic Spinach and Feta Bread this weekend.

  • Paul Farinacci says:

    I just got back from seeing this exhibit and couldn’t agree more with Roberta Smith. Time-out NY’s review was similar to Ms. Smith’s. I am so tired of seeing bad conceptual art! As a working artist myself, I am tired of seeing “art” that has little to no real aesthetic or vision. Most of this work lacked in substance and what happened to the importance of technique and choice/use of materials. Too much of the work was based on poorly thought out concepts, or “one-liners”, ideas that are absent of real depth, exploration and investigation. But this seems to be a trend with the AIM Program which may be due in part to their selection process. They use their own in-house curators and previous participants in the program. Irys Schenker, Bill Lohre, Jeanne Verdoux were a few of the artists whose work I found of merit though. C’mon Bronx Museum you can do better. Can’t art be aesthetically pleasing, thought-provoking, well crafted and express a unique voice all at once? Or at least find artists that contain one or more of these attributes.

  • lara says:

    HI Paul- Thanks for those comments. It’s great to hear from someone who saw the show too.

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