The following is based upon an email I sent to a friend over a
year ago. While it does deal with a personal communication, the
subject may relate to experiences you have shared, when even our
friends become critics of our art. Hopefully you will find some
part of it entertaining, and perhaps share in some observations.
An acquaintance, after viewing my work in an exhibit (in which
it had been given an award) emailed me with his ideas for improving
my work...this had been an uninvited criticism. Of course, I less
than generously thought how rude this person was. He was another
artist, and for that moment at least, he became a self appointed
critic, believing he could set me straight about my personal choices.
He then became the surrogate for all the critics worldwide, and
I mentally sought to somehow retaliate (knowing that he was already
locked into his opinions).
He reminded me of a definition I like to repeat concerning "The
Know It All." Here I retell that definition, followed by
an edited enlarged copy of my email response to him.
There are four types of Know-It-Alls in the world:
A. The Congenital Know-It-All, fortunate to have been born knowing
B. The Self Made Know-It-All, having gained vast knowledge during
a period of several minutes.
C. The Closet Know-It-All, who doesn't tell you he knows it until
you tell him something, and he replies, ìI Know!! I Know!!"
D. The perfect, tactful and humble Know-It-All, ME
- - - - - - - - - -
Now, with your indulgence, here is the edited and enlarged letter
I returned to my acquaintance:
Friend, Fellow Artist and Critic:
First, may I comment that what I will say here in no way diminishes
my admiration for you and your personal choices in what you make
and appreciate? You are unique, and your ideas are valuable. Indeed,
it is very good to find more ideas, even about my own work. But,
consider this, you and I create very different things because
we've chosen from different experiences, and we probably have
some very different reasons to make art objects.
Because I use found objects, you have referred to figures like
Rauschenberg and Schnabel. You know, I have seen their work for
some years. Indeed, if I could afford it, one of Robert Raushenberg's
"combines" would be on my list of items to live with.
I recall seeing some of his work during a New York visit way back
in 1963/64, when they were fresh and motivating, when I was fresh
and inexperienced, and they still do stir my blood. I knew I liked
them, without anyone telling me what was right or wrong about
them. I probably donít know as much about that subject
as I should, so I thank you for your observations. As far as Julian
Schnabel goes, his work is big.
You made another statement that you didnít like the twine
I used in one of the pieces, and that you would have used a different
type of rope. Not only does this suggest you might have only given
my art objects cursory observation, but it may hint at the differences
in our approaches and our differing reasons to make art objects.
You did not realize that I have been using the same ball of farm-found
binder twine for over 10 years, with conscious purpose. You might
say it is my twine of choice, a material which I make even more
coarse and crude when so motivated. But, how could you see the
connections to my past, my childhood...my uncles and cousins and
haylofts and granaries? There were my trees and dead foxes and
musty attics and sexual awakening...and there is my personal life
today, different than yours.
For me, what each of us puts into our creations includes what
we individually experience, what we know from our personal lives
and interpretations, what is in our peculiar latent memories.
We can step away from established models and standardized methods
and imposed rules and tired ways of looking, and outlined school
curricula. And, importantly, we need not satisfy each other in
order to make significant works of art. I cannot see from your
eye sockets any more than you can from mine, and the gray matter
you possess holds different mysteries than mine.
Then you bring up the notion that I should have used patterns
and repetition, which you apparently believe I neglected, and
of which you seem to think I might not even be aware? Have you
considered that my experiences, and the life experience of others,
include studies and observations concerning art making with conclusions/decisions
that are different than yours? Some of the first elements one
discusses in Art 101 are line, textures, color, repetition, patterns.
I, and others out there, might have had a few studies in art and
its history, not to mention other possibilities like the history
of textiles, design, costume, Museum Studies and Connoisseurship,
and more. But, how much formal education does one need to understand
patterns and other art fundamentals? Yes! Nature is filled with
pattern, repetition, and all of Natureís aesthetics, wherever
organic and mineral forms proliferate. (And, you must know that
some of us might even have had some formal instruction in Natural
But, consider this...one only needs hands, coordination, memory
and personal motivation to create objects that are personally
meaningful. Do we need to be concerned about the rigid preformed
ideas, other peoplesí standards and limited understandings
I am not interested in creating decorative units for lawns or
living rooms, though I am happy to place such objects on my lawn
and interior, enjoying their interesting form, color, textures,
light and shadow, historical antecedents and design ramifications.
As for my own work, perhaps it isn't enough in your eyes, but
I am interested in being privately and uniquely myself when producing
items that arise from personal experience, without need for criticism
from others who have their own agendas, who think that they might
better know what elements are required to make good art. Everyone
is a critic, but sometimes those critics forget they operate with
one point of view.
Along those lines, I have been asked several times to act as a
juror for some art shows. This was flattering, but I said, ìNo!
Thank youî. It didnít fee that I needed the ego enhancement,
nor did I need to exert power or engage my subjective judgment
to make "better" choices. It would have been simple
to become the juror, picking things that I liked. However, a question
arises about the attitudes and judgments of those who have a sense
of self importance which may delude them into believing that they
have greater insights than anyone else. Aside from those who do
it because they need the money, there must be those who relish
being ìjurorsî so they can employ their own agendas,
exert their will, and cull the unworthy.
The important choices I make in my production and collecting are
not dependent upon others and their ideas. My limitations are
there for all to see, but I ask that observers look thoughtfully.
When I create, the choices are mine, based upon my own very personal
criteria...as you must make your own choices. Because we all have
a limited point of view, not sharing in all the same experiences
and resultant conclusions, it seems likely that we have to find
greater empathy when commenting about the art made by others.
What do you think?
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