What a horrible title.
And yet what a totally accurate statement.
In any art review, the creative process is the writing. But a well written review with no substance provides no insight into the art, and a poorly written scholarly article is simply an intellectual self-indulgence.
So, what is the solution.
Obviously, the goal is a well written scholarly article, but even when writers present a scholarly view, their points of focus vary.
I really enjoy the writing of John House and Martin Kemp. They have a scientific sense of enquiry into art. Being a sculptor, it may just be their sense of inquiry into process that I find appealing. However, it may just be that they do not use artspeak (a phenomenon common in the U.S.).
Similarly, the work of Michael Baxandall fascinates me, although he can be very hard to read. He attacks assumptions and makes one think about what we are seeing. He focuses on the art as object and its historical and social context.
On the other hand, I am also a tremendous fan of Sister Wendy Beckett. We have been trained to looking at the Crucifixion as a major work of art. It is refreshing to hear someone say that it is first and foremost about the suffering of Christ. What a radical insight. She focuses on the art as subject and the recreation of the moment.
As I write blogs, I find myself in this dilemma.
I am trying to write about art, and yet at the same time, although the topic is art, the creative process is writing.
Therefore, I seek to write well about my understanding of art.
And when I add images, I face yet another dilemma. Should I write about what I feel is significant, or write about the art of which I have images. The situation is even worse, when great works just photograph poorly, and bad art looks great when reduced to a simple image.
When I write about an exhibition, am I writing about the contents of the show, or about the staging. Writing about the work is timeless, but writing about the staging confirms that the way we perceive is very dependent on how it is staged, and more correctly about the focus (or ‘agenda’) of the exhibition. If I emphasize the underlying theme of the exhibition, am I journeying beyond art. For example, it is impossible to discuss any art exhibition that comes from the middle east without a mention of the current politics from which the exhibition is intended to distract us.
Writing about art is about many things.
It’s a pity that it can’t simply be about art. But, then again, should it just be about art.
Baxandall, Michael. “Painting and Experience in Fifteenth-Century Italy: A Primer in the Social History of Pictorial Style.” Oxford University Press. 1988.
Beckett, Wendy. “Sister Wendy’s Story of Painting.” doring kinderling. 1997.
Dewey, John. “Art as Experience”. Penguin, 2005. (Originally published 1934.)
Elsner, Jas. “Art and the Roman Viewer: The Transformation of Art from the Pagan World to Christianity (Cambridge Studies in New Art History and Criticism). Cambridge University Press. 1997.
House, John. “Monet: Nature into Art.” Yale University Press. 1988.
Kemp, Martin. “The Science of Art: Optical Themes in Western Art from Brunelleschi to Seurat.” Yale University Press. 1992.