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tom moody


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What is this, Self-Hating Artists Day? (friendly dig --ed.) We're talking about the James Elkins book What Happened to Art Criticism? Both simpleposie and Sally applied a word used here, "position," to artists in a rather noxious way. Just for the record, it wasn't used on this blog as a verb ("position themselves") or qualified with other words ("pretense to an art historical position"). Not sure where these pejoratives are coming from, attached to us artists: if we don't love and believe in what we do, how can we expect others to?

Elkins uses the word in posing the rather silly question of whether academic and journalist critics should "take a position," as opposed to, one supposes, being forever will-of-the-wisps and gadflys. And I responded that an actual debate that took place between an academic and an artist over an actual position, Minimalism, was more interesting than that question. In the Robert Smithson vs Michael Fried dustup of the late 1960s, Smithson was acting as spokesman for a group of artists who had come under attack (some didn't like having him as a spokesman, but that's another story). The object of the dialogue was not to nail down Minimalism's "place in art history" but first of all, what it was.

If we're talking about a position vis a vis an individual artist as opposed to a movement, a better word is "vision," or less grandiosely, "the artist's thing." The catalog essay or press release is the first articulation of that thing (after the thing itself). In a world where the first spin on your work is likely going to come from a harried journalist looking at dozens of shows, you should probably try to write that statement as well and clearly as possible to head off possible factual errors or misreadings of tone. The last thing you want is someone "interpreting" for you, if that means ignoring your own clearly expressed feelings (e.g, calling your work sad when it's not). Unless you truly don't care about how it's going to be read and discussed in the future.

Once that "first draft" is out there, then it's fair game. If a larger position emerges through comparison (by artists, academics, journos, the public, or whoever) of your work to other works, then so be it--or rather, cool! You certainly have the right to pitch in and argue for your thing during the process.

As for the abstract evalution of critical practice Sally mentions, I think it's interesting in a shop talk kind of way, but less important than discussing actual artworks, good ones of which exist in a substantial unevaluated-to-evaluated ratio.

- tom moody 8-22-2004 8:28 pm [link]