Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Boston Sculptors on criticism, art and craft

On Apr 16, 2011, at 11:36 AM, Peter Haines wrote:

Dear BSGers,
I am a fan of [Boston Globe Art Critic] Sebastion Smee. Smee can be tough, and I do not always agree with his opinions, but he has a stance- something to engage with.

Smee's October 8 Globe review of Dale Chihuly's MFA show was a nuanced masterpiece. Chihuly's tacky work has become as ubiquitous as a Louis Vuitton handbag. He is a favorite in Columbus, Ohio where I grew up. The "cognoscenti" can recognize each others pieces on shelves like they might a Hermes scarf around the neck. A seven-inch diameter glass bowl -$6000; am I jealous? (perhaps, yes).
Smee's writing can put into words my own inchoate thoughts and feelings. Like a good poem- [from the Chihuly review] "They're like daily deliveries of unwanted flowers after a regretted one-night transgression." WOW!

Or this, "Nor am I bothered by the absence of ideas in his work; I am all in favor of senseless beauty, and would prefer it any day to most of the brittle, air-filled meringue that goes by the description of conceptual art." YES, with a fist-pump!
I do like the Green Tower at the MFA (Smee agrees). I think that it with two other sculptures do much to relieve the sterility of the new food court. More is needed. Perhaps one of us us has proposed "a spectacle" for that space.

Having read the Chihuly piece in bed, I could not fall asleep for hours after turning out the light. In my mind, I played a taste parlor game:

Maillot / La Chaise / Rodin
Braque / Dali / Giacometti
Manet / Renoir / Van Gogh
Brancusi / Jean Arp / Picasso
Noguchi / Pomodoro / Calder
Rothko / Georgia O’Keffee / Orozco, Rivera
Joseph Cornell / Klimt, Parish, Erte / H.C. Westerman
Caro / Oldenberg / DiSuvero
I.M.Pei, Foster / Gehry / Calatrava (?)
Minimalism / Pop Art / Abstract Expressionism
Tang Dynasty / Ming Dynasty / (?)
Haines / Jeff Koons / Anish Kapoor

This, of course, reflects my taste- that tends to favor columns one and three. However, some tasteful minimalists (Agnes Martin) bore me, and I like the tasteless Philip Guston (an acquired taste). I puzzle about the appropriate column for others: Bonnard (T or TL), Hans Hoffman (TL or TI), Turner (T, TL, or TI). A great player would have nicely parallel threesomes.

It occurs to me that this game could be a good framework for fun and discussion if we meet as usual at the end of the year. I would be willing to host this year.

Tastefully Yours,
Peter DeCamp Haines

On Apr 16, 2011, at 12:46 PM, DANIEL WILLS wrote:

Thinking about Peter's letter I am reminded of a couple of quotes from Chihuly: I put a lot of stuff together until it looks right and: there is never too much. I also think the green piece is exciting to look at and seems to exist without a need for intellectual content. I also agree with Peter's take on Smee.

- Dan Wills
On Sat, Apr 16, 2011 at 3:23 PM, Eric Sealine wrote:

From 1975 to about 1983 I worked in vitreous enamel, fired onto plate glass. (Home page of my website at present.) I was a member of the Glass Art Society and got to know a lot of glass artists and the issues they deal with. I would make two comments about Chihuly and the world of glass art.

First, it is very difficult to make something out of glass that isn't beautiful, just because the medium is like that, and that makes critical judgment very hard. Stephanie Walker's last show comes to mind.

The second has to do with the high cost of incremental technical change. Once you're set up to, say, cast large objects out of glass like Howard Ben Tre or produce thousands of latticino spears like Chihuly, the cost of making a different kind of object is very high. You have to build a whole different kind of factory. This means that glass artists tend to keep making the same kind of object over and over, especially if they are selling well. Chihuly is directly in the tradition of Murano for reasons that have to do with the intractable nature of the material itself.

That lack of maneuverability is one of the reasons I quit working in glass. - Eric Sealine

On Apr 16, 2011, at 4:18 PM, Peter Haines wrote:

Interesting. The reason that I never took to the lathe or to the potters wheel,
fun for a while, was the intractable roundness.

Peter DeCamp Haines

On Sat, Apr 16, 2011 at 10:23 PM, Eric Sealine wrote:

And the intractable 'craftness', which to me entails a definition-by-material. I regard 'oil paint on canvas' as the king of art media precisely because it is so maneuverable. If you want to make an entirely different painting tomorrow than you made yesterday, that's your business. If you want to move into watercolor, the start-up cost can be as much as a couple of hundred dollars; big deal. If you have a glass factory...not so simple, not so cheap, not so maneuverable.

There was always a background chatter at G.A.S. conferences about the division between art and craft, and how it was important to define 'glass art' as 'art' and not 'craft'. My opinion was that, if you're having that discussion, you have other problems.

I can define the junction between art and craft while standing on one foot (thank you rabbi Hillel): Every art has a craft, and every craft has an art. If what you just made doesn't have both, you have nothing, whether that thing is a new patch of sidewalk or the Mona Lisa.

All of which makes being a member of Boston Sculptors so interesting. We're not just a collective of sculptors, we're also a collection of (developing) definitions of what we mean by 'art'.

On Sun, Apr 17, 2011 at 12:50 AM, Peter Haines wrote:

Yes, Eric.
While I have nothing against ideas, it seems to me that no idea is so great as to justify a crappy object- thus comes craft.
Conversely, take the trajectory of Chinese Art. My favorite objects are from the Shang dynasty (1600 BC). What is amazing is that motifs established then persist for nearly 3500 years. High points are considered to have been reached in the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD) and the Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD).

The problem is that the Chinese did not know when to stop, more was always better.
If a white object is beautiful, then white and blue is better, then white and blue and red, then green, then silver, gold etc.
By the time you reach the much-heralded Forbidden City stuff of the Ming and Quin Dynasties, ever more amazing craft has triumphed, at the expense of art- my taste.
Peter DeCamp Haines

Tues. April 19, 2011:

Sebastian Smee, art critic for The Boston Globe, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for criticism today “for his vivid and exuberant writing about art, often bringing great works to life with love and appreciation.” The prize, which is the preeminent award for newspaper journalism, comes with $10,000 cash. Globe art critic Mark Feeney won the Pulitizer Prize for criticism in 2008. This seems to make the Globe the only newspaper in America have two full time staff Pulitzer Prize winning visual art critics.


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