Students in this spring’s “Art Since 1960” course spent the semester exploring the role of art critics in modern and contemporary society. Their final assignment for the semester was to analyze the role that art criticism plays in Oklahoma today. Where are the art critics? Who is their audience? What are they saying? Although these essays aren’t directly connected to the OSU Museum of Art or its collection, I believe that healthy art criticism is a vital part of an ecosystem in which museums can thrive.
The student essays shared here have been edited for length. Students’ content and overall arguments have not been altered. This week’s essay is by Dan Pham.
There is no real art criticism in reviews or discussions of art published in Oklahoma. Published pieces seem geared towards getting audiences to come out and see the art rather than being true critical analyses of the artwork itself. Oklahoma publications should not be afraid to give real thought and criticism to their analyses, rather than simply describing what the artwork looks like. Strong art criticism would intrigue readers, encouraging them to go out to see the artwork themselves rather than reading a description about what an art piece looks like.
The Oklahoman article, “Oklahoma City Art Exhibit Looks at Teacher’s ‘Legacy,’” is geared towards an audience that has some background in art but is not seeking a personal opinion from the writer. The writer, John Brandenburg, seeks to inspire the viewers to view the works of art by explaining about a select few pieces in detail. There is a lack of true art criticism in this article. Brandenburg gives a brief review over the artist’s background, and he goes into great detail about the pieces and the exhibition. What he lacks is criticism of the pieces or his opinion on the show as a whole. He is just explaining the exhibition, artist, and pieces to the audience. It is as though he hopes to promote George Bogart’s exhibition in support of the deceased artist and his students, valuing that promotion more than his opinions about the exhibition.
The Oklahoman covers over a lot of exhibitions in Oklahoma but the articles are not geared towards being art criticism. Instead, they are a way to encourage the audience to visit the exhibition. The Oklahoman, a general-interest publication, does not have a single person dedicated towards all things art on their staff. John Brandenburg is an artist himself, but he is not the only writer for art-related news for the Oklahoman. The Oklahoman focuses purely on the contemporary side of art and on what is current instead of art history. As with many news publications, they do allow the public to voice their opinions but due to the lack of criticism in most of their art related publications, the conversation between the writer and the public is usually minimal.
An article about artist Zipora Fried, “When Subconscious Hits the Surface, and Other Big Stories,” by Matt Williams, was published in the Fall/Winter 2015 issue of ArtDesk. This magazine is geared towards those with an art background, and this article does a better job than the Oklahoman in giving the audience some perspective as to why and how the artist made her pieces. It explores more into the artist’s mind rather than simply describing the pieces. The article describes a little backstory to Fried’s pieces and it allows the audience to feel more connected and have a better understanding towards the artist’s pieces. The writer mentions how Fried “possesses a freed perception of her art, one without the boundaries of conventional human thought [and] in this, through indifference or generosity, through intent to create meaning or not, Fried leads viewers to a wild and beautiful place.” The writer wants to introduce the audience to new art and to give the audience a better understanding of Fried’s work. This article offers a good sense of description towards the pieces and a little critical judgment. There is a sense of the author in the article but it still leans towards the descriptive side. ArtDesk invites comments and letters to the editor in a section at the end of the magazine.
Oklahoma Visual Arts Coalition’s Art Focus Oklahoma recently published an article titled “Adam Lanman’s Structure-scapes,” by Emily Newman. The audience reading this magazine holds an interest in art, and Art Focus not only introduces new contemporary artists but also has articles that survey art history for readers to gain broader knowledge of the subject. Newman’s goal for this art criticism article is on the descriptive side but it thoroughly allows the audience to have an understanding of the artist’s goals with his pieces. Her article resembles Williams’ article in ArtDesk in the sense that although there are bits of their opinions in the writing, it still doesn’t read fully as art criticism. Newman is encouraging the audience to experience new art and to support local galleries by going to see Lanman’s exhibition.
OVAC also has a blog that writes art articles over contemporary artists. “Access, History and Identity: the work of Mandy Messina,” gives a great overview of Messina and her intentions for her pieces. This blog post is for audiences interested in going to see Messina’s show who hope to have a better background about her work. It encourages the readers to view her exhibition and supports local galleries. There is also a lack of art criticism in this article as it focuses more on the artist’s backstory and intentions rather than the writer’s response to the pieces [editor’s note: the author of the post isn’t credited by name]. The blog posts on OVAC’s blog focus on contemporary artists and lack critical judgments. The same goes for Art+Write+Now’s article “Positively Red,” by Laur Reese, over artist Ashley Griffith. There are multiple writers for this blog and they offer few critical judgments, focusing instead on describing their subjects and artists’ intentions when making their art pieces.
Most recently published articles about art in Oklahoma publications lack critical judgment. Yes, most of them support local galleries and encourage their audiences to view the artist’s exhibitions — but the writers’ voices and opinions are lost within the promotion of the artist. Overall, they all support local galleries, encourage their audience to find the context of the artist’s pieces, and gear themselves towards contemporary art.