ArtKritique turns one year old today and whilst I have never been more excited about the future I can't help reflecting upon what I've learned. The blog you're reading now came about through an unformed and simmering frustration at the state of visual art and the way that people wrote about it, especially the way people wrote about it. As a modest collector and profligate reader I felt that art criticism bore such scant resemblance to how I experienced the arts, and as frustration is such a wasteful response decided to try to form an alternative that I imagined I would like to read.
There are two dominant strains of the virus: the pseudo-acedemic post structuralist theory based idea of criticism and the journalistic condescension of pleasantly rewritten press releases. It's infinitely rare for either of these schools to ever give one a sense of the visual experience of any given work or the mechanic between the visual and emotional or intellectual response. I've come to believe all the more firmly that if you're not doing either of these you're not writing about art, but using art to write about something else.
When I look to the work I responded to most strongly this year, Patricia Piccinini in Hobart, Intensely Dutch at the AGNSW, Tacita Dean at ACCA and Vernon Ah Kee all over the place, I see some common threads. It was richly layered and didn't give its secrets up easily, at the same time it needed no explanation or particular theoretical or contextual knowledge. Depth and opacity were never synonymous. In essence it was deeply human and the fact that it was quite so disparate made it all the more so. As someone who has been both voracious and discriminatory in all of my culture consumption I understand how being doctrinaire is much simpler than finding common currency and value. Our society suffers from the anxiety of quality together with the need for discrimination. We find the notion of universal values difficult and subsequently need to drop into the categorical. That's why it's easier to like sauvignon blanc and despise chardonnay, this year, than it is to find a common characteristic that we value across all wine. When that's applied to art we dismiss the old craft like ways, painting or sculpture, in favour of the abstract and conceptual. The flight from judgement is as weird as all hell, the craft or skill of an individual has almost been erased from our criteria for judging quality, in this privileging of the theoretical a self-defining supposed radical elite has removed a whole class from the potential benefits of art. That's as stupid as it is shameful.
Secret Stupid Art is based upon the admittedly banal observation that, just as empty vessels make the most noise, the works of art that claim to be the most intellectual are likely to be the dumbest. The urge to make art about art has always struck me as slightly dim, it's a bit like endlessly repeating a joke and one has to admit that Marcel Duchamp is subject to a rapidly diminishing law of returns. Conceptual art and its post-modern cousins scream as being based upon a colossal misapprehension: that art is, in and of itself, interesting. We all know that's not quite true, art is interesting because it is able to reflect, contest and explore the experience we have of being human.
Humanity is messy, complex, contradictory, brilliant and exquisite all at once and in a million different ways, that's why it's a subject that's so hard to master but so satisfying to attempt. Art is finite, academic and institutional, no wonder it's less satisfying. There is a lesson to be learnt from the cold hard formalism of Twentieth Century classical music, as composers work became more an more about the rules and history of composition thus their audiences became less and less engaged. Museum attendances suggest that the visual arts have not yet jumped this particular shark, however these also reflect a desire for a shared primary cultural experience which is different to an ideological affirmation. The ability of specific exhibitions to draw crowds still points to artists who engage in the human, the natural and the emotional as our preferred communicators.
I'm pretty firm in my belief that Samuel Beckett's 'Waiting for Godot' is the single greatest artistic achievement of the Twentieth Century. A play about the inability of language to carry the totality of human meaning just screams the absolute need that, despite everything, we must continue urgently violently to attempt to communicate. There pumps the absolute heart of why art is a human necessity and why humanity is an artistic imperative.
In 2009 I loved Linda Marrinon's sculptures and their Rembrandt dots of eyes as they formed themselves out of clay and bronze, Marc Standing's terror and beauty, Christine Eid's taxi driver anthropology and Marc de Jong's acute drawings. I discovered, late as an immigrant but that's a pleasure in itself, Mickey Allen's tender vision and Les Kossatz's compassionate surrealism. I loved the way a simple mark could be spastic and eloquent all at once. I loved the things that surprised me and I loved being surprised.
In 2010 I want to be moved to tears. I want to go back to see things because I can't get them out of my head, I want to see the world anew and see something deep and hidden in myself in the work of another.
Love, peace and happiness for 2010,