I recently began writing a column for The Western Springs Journal. I did not have a name for it at first, so I called one of my brothers to pick his brain. I told him the purpose of it was to discuss a wide range of topics, in an easy-to-understand way, with a creative twist. He suggested The Artist’s Eye because I feel that many arts writers talk about art in a way that is full of mumbo jumbo that cannot be understood by regular folks. I’m pretty immersed in the world of art, (not to be confused with the high brow art world) and find that I’m intimidated by art reviews and still shake my head when I think of a critique I received when I was a student at The Memphis College of Art.
It was 2007 and every undergraduate was required to have his work reviewed by a panel of faculty at the end of each year. One of my pieces was a clear, plastic traveling suit and purse inspired by long security lines at the airport. I thought it would be fun to waltz through security, without taking off my belt, shoes or jacket. I stuffed the clear purse with tampons, condoms and all manner of potentially embarrassing items.
During the critique, one faculty member focused solely on the suit, which I had displayed on a mannequin. He spoke about it for at least thirty minutes. It made me uncomfortable because I didn’t view my work as more than a fun solution to the airport problem. He talked about the vulnerability of women, something I hadn’t considered. I can now understand how he got that out of my work but was his thirty-minute monologue meant to impress the other faculty at my critique?
This experience caused me to start reading art reviews with a grain of salt. I think they tend to be written in such lofty terms that it may ruin the experience for the public. Viewing art is very personal and can cause people to feel a myriad of things from joy to revulsion. No experience is wrong. I’m not sure art should be reviewed but perhaps just experienced. Roger Kimball, an American Art critic and social commentator, has written a book on this topic called The Rape of the Masters.
He seems to feel that reviewers have hijacked many works of art over the years by creating a story that the artist never intended. He gives the example of The Gulf Stream, painted by Winslow Homer in 1899. Homer did not intend for this work to be an allegory about racism; it is about a fisherman blown out to sea by a bad storm. The artist crossed the Gulf Stream many times and painted several nautical paintings. While it’s okay for one viewer to make the association to racism and another to see a tragic fishing story; it is not okay for a reviewer to dictate the meaning of a piece of art.
My cousin, Eddie Barbini won first place in an art show at La Galeria Gitana this past spring with his painting, Valley View, featured above. Here is what the judge said, “Again the particular use of color and light within the color really spoke to me in this piece. The gestures are very measured and even, while the perspective and almost cinematic aspect ratio add up to a beautiful balance in composition, communicating space and a feeling of a ‘place in time.’ I also feel California’s particular love of architecture is referenced here and it’s philosophy of structures needing to become one with the environment in which they are placed.” Can anyone translate this?
I didn’t realize that the obtuseness of writing was a problem in fields other than art until my conversation with my brother about naming my column. He remarked that my description of what I was trying to do with my column reminded him of an opinion on the recent decision of USA v. Dessart, a criminal case appeal which has just been decided in Wisconsin. In a nutshell, Mr. Dessart made and sold products containing ingredients common in prescription drugs. He sold them online with the disclaimer “for research only.” He was convicted of violating the FDA’s Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. He lost his case and subsequent appeal.
The Honorable Richard Posner offered a concurring opinion on the appeal decision with the following caveat: “I don’t disagree with the decision to affirm the district court. I disagree merely with the rhetorical envelope in which so many judicial decisions are delivered to the reader. Judicial opinions are littered with stale, opaque, confusing jargon. There is no need for jargon, stale or fresh. Everything judges do can be explained in straightforward language—and should be.”
Does every profession have people that are so insecure or elitist that they need to communicate in gobbledygook in order to convince everyone that they are smart or is it a way to keep their knowledge of a particular subject from the rest of us? When I was working on my last blog, Can Creativity Be Taught, I referred to The Midnight Disease by Alice Flaherty, a neuroscientist and neurologist. She feels that scientific writing should be lighter on jargon so that regular people can understand it. She states, “And now I know that there is something the scientific community is missing, something I can no longer do without. The deliberate bloodlessness of scientific writing now seems less a necessary imperfection in the search for objectivity than a crime against humanity.” Them’s Fightin’ Words!
When you get rid of jargon and communicate in an easy-to-understand manner you can get your message across to a lot of people. Just look at Donald Trump. His plain speaking style and simple message, Make America Great Again, has vaulted him over sixteen potential presidential candidates and into the Republican nominee seat. So for crying out loud, say what you mean in a clear and concise manner and mean what you say! We’ll all be better off!
Kathleen Thometz is an artist, writer and founder of Doodle Art & Design, a teaching studio in Western Springs. She writes The Artist’s Eye column for The Western Springs Journal. She lives with her husband, kids and three doodle dogs, Rainbow, Sunshine and Thunderstorm. Check out the Doodle Art website at www.doodleartanddesign.com.