I reached out a couple of weeks ago, seeking help or advice, or anything really, from someone whom I was sure was the only person that could give me some sound advice on an area of the art world that I have no experience in. I decided on them in particular because I felt that they must have been in the same place that I find myself now; with a desire to write and talk about art both critically and creatively, yet no clue as to where to begin.
I had spent a good part of the year keeping an eye out on Irish writers and reviewers, newsletters and magazines as well as online forums. Despite my new hobby encouraging me out of my art school graduate slump (of low wage part time jobs and absence of actual work making), I felt there was something lacking in the conversation i.e. the critical bit. In the majority of reviews or articles I read, there seemed to be a veil drawn across negative remarks or thoughts from the writers themselves, like a fear of being the person who points out the casual sexism in a film that everyone else is laughing at. I was alerted to this myself when one of my open submission attempts returned to me, rejected, and displaying the words “too descriptive and not interrogative” in the comments box. My confidence was immediately cracked, yet I felt bemused about the idea that I had so easily fallen into this trend or habit that made me wonder “do any of these critics even like/dislike what they’re seeing?”. I realised from my reading and scoping of the Irish art criticism scene that I was merely taking on what the others were doing and not actually being critical, even of my own writing, but instead presuming that it would float the boat and add another notch to the CV.
At that point I accumulated a new found enthusiasm for the flavour of content I wanted to write yet I still hid in the corner with my tail between my legs for fear of being reduced down to a bitter, wet blanket. I reached out and was expecting to face plant the floor, resembling a “don’t email me ever again” response. Instead I was pleasantly surprised, and was met with positivity for my brutal honesty. I was asked to hold tight for a more thorough reply and so I waited. This was easy as I was also preparing to return to university of which I had recently found out I had no money for. Needless to say I became preoccupied, which helped pass the time.
The email in my inbox eventually arrived a week and a half later and I was excited to read it. Subsequently there was no email but rather a note saying that I had inspired my trustee so much with my desperation and lack of confidence that he decided to reply to me with an anonymous open letter (or blog post in this respect). Initially I was flattered and felt a surge of pride in myself (as most ego-centric millennials do), I clicked on the link to the post and began to read. I read and read and finished. Contemplated, signed off and made tea to continue contemplating on the couch. On this occasion, I was left silent and somewhat dumbfounded, asking myself “what did I actually just read?”.
The next day I attempted the post again, with a more objective state of mind but alas I was left empty handed and with a wrinkle in my nose. I got a sense that the relay of differences and difficulties he met and challenged over the course of his experience came off as more of a patronising lecture. I felt stuck to my seat, like I couldn't leave or even put my hand up to comment. Furthermore, what started off as a correspondence between two people was instantly transformed into a public ego massage, of which I was subtly cast off into the crowd. The post itself had a tone of sincerity (I hope) with him describing his teething pains and how rejection just comes with the territory, polished off with a modern day finish of awe inspiring quote. His choice was of Sol LeWitt declaring to fellow artist Eva Hesse : “ Stop it and just, DO”.
Yes, I jumped the gun and grew angry, feeling almost back at square one. The more I considered his response and the fashion he had specifically chosen to deliver it in I gradually grew to realise something that spun the wheel in motion. My expectations were not delivered into my reality, rather than be given a polite and private response, I was bade goodbye and good luck through the Art world, in a traditionally artistic way: where an individual speaks to a million more with a simple rhetoric.
My correspondent filed me swiftly into this category of viewer/reader/listener, yet as a hopeful writer, I am guilty of attributing similar treatments. Figures of speech and compositional techniques, play important roles in both art and it's dialogues. As I wander into the dense and obscure panorama of "the art world" with nothing but my blog in one hand and my guts in the other, I will be speaking out loud and unaware of the ears that prick up to hear me. The minor yet fundamental detail being that the way in which I write or work is defined by this blindness of opinion. Will I be persuasive? aggressive? submissive even? Will my ego-centric manner even be tolerated to a degree? My conclusion revealed to me that even in my moment of self-pity, I was given a requiem that didn't compromise for the sake of my feeble notions at the time. Fittingly, my five minute mentor designed a response that was consistent with what I was asking him for, I guess I just didn't see it at first.
All in all, I reached out to an art critic and asked for advice on how to become one and I was given an answer almost identical to when I was nineteen, in art school and wanting to be an artist : "Stop it and just, DO, but while you're at it, here's one I made earlier". Rhetorics don’t request replies, they presume them, yet that leaves the floor open, wide open, expansive, endless for the conversations and dialogues to erupt around them which people start paying attention to and in turn give attention to the rhetoric in the first place. (The analogy of an art piece in an empty gallery room comes to mind...)
So I use this as my point of entry into the art criticism world which the non-painter saluted me on. I bravely take my first step with this post and chew the last wick of my fingernails in anticipation of a future which will hopefully materialise.
To my anonymous advisor, I may not have entirely appreciated your post, but something in your text moved the weight off my chest just enough that I could inhale a fresh breath of air. I am grateful for the clarity it evoked in me when I began writing this. I took my time chewing, digesting and waiting for the resulting indigestion, indifference or burst of inspiration that one can have. This time I experienced the latter in a way I hadn’t before, calmly and interrogatively and felt the obstructive secrecy wilt away. So although my moment of complete anxiety inspired you to create something that I felt was more for yourself, I am happy that your rhetoric was the push for me to create my own. I'm aware that art is capable of this feat, yet I never realised criticism could do the same. So cheers for that.
I bid you a safe (slash terrifying) journey too. Perhaps our paths may cross a third time and maybe the next occasion will be even more fruitful.
All the best,