Friday, December 30, 2016

Slouching towards 2017

I used to dismiss New Year's Eve as just another day, unworthy of making a fuss or resolutions. But now I think resolutions are a chance to reflect and reveal who we think we are and hope to be. Last year I resolved to draw daily. Now one of my resolutions for the coming year is to be more deliberate in the professional work I do, specifically to write and draw more and with more deliberate aim. In light of that goal, I know I need to read and look more.

Similarly, I recently advised an aspiring student art critic to read more art criticism and sent him four links.* The first is by famed art critic Jerry Saltz and unusual in that he's not discussing art, but the graphic photographs of the assassination of the Russian ambassador at an art gallery in Turkey. When I posted the link on facebook a friend-of-a-friend (a non-native speaker?) wrote:
"I read manu[sic] words about visual set up, but nothing about history. If to look from historical perspective such murders often happened to be the start of giant wars and disasters. Also I feel that esthetic approach to terrorism as a way to tolerate it. If we start that we can go forward, let's enjoy the beauty and the drama of WTC collapsing, murder of American ambassador in Bengazy[sic]... what next? 
It is the wrong way. When you step on it you will lose all limits."
The assassin and his victim, Russian ambassador, Andrey Karlov.
Photo: Burhan Ozbilici/Turkey/AP
This sentiment is similar to Micah Mattix's criticism of Saltz in his article. He writes, "Saltz's response also shows us the vacuousness of criticism that takes provocation as the only remaining touchstone of art." I will admit I ate up Saltz's article because it spoke to and stoked my provocation. Those images are glossy and surreal. They echo the slick packaged way we present tragedy or elections in the news. They are stunning and Saltz's smart clinical discussion is a way, admittedly not the best or most humane way, to process them.

In the classroom I am a champion of quantity over quality and of separating the acts of creation and editing. There needs to be spitballing and what Anne Lamott calls "shitty first drafts." There's much to be said for putting-it-out-there without design by committee, but for me, in 2017, I want tighter focus. To make sure the work I do is doing good and not, as Saltz's writing, trading in provocation. To what end do my drawings, actions, essays go out into world? What do they do? I think answering this question calls for more production, but coupled with more editing and reflection too.

So here's to doing more in 2017, but more importantly, doing better.

* The other two articles I sent are about an exhibition in Minneapolis and reveal different approaches to art criticism. Original article by Gregory Scott here and rebuttal by Cristina Schmid here