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Re: [BKARTS] Artistsbooks Online

Dear Judy,
I'm sorry that you took my criticism of the state of artist books personally. It wasn't aimed at your site, your collection (and certainly not you). Just seeing the THEMES listed on artistsbooks.slq.qld.gov.au really hit home for me - and got me to express my frustrations for artist books in general - ie: "sadly telling of the book arts world." I think it's very nice that you have a collection, a site and are interested in the education. My "somewhat negative comments" (what ever happened to ART CRITICISM?) were reflective of the state of what is produced my most of the book artists that I have seen the last 12 years that I have been taking the medium seriously. Maybe I was just raised in a world of MTV quick-cut editing and bright and shiny colors, but in art - I want something NEW. Something exciting, something that I haven't seen before and will make me think about things differently. Michael Andrews' point is well taken (by me), "A clever binding utilizing a passport that refers to immigration issues is not a substitute for dealing with the issue."

I think it would be useful for book artists and other members of this list to read the critic Jerry Saltz's excellent column on art ciritcism (from this month - bold emphasis is mine) :

by Jerry Saltz

This month is my seven-year anniversary at the Village Voice, so I thought I'd use Frieze magazine's recent queries to me about the "de-skilling of art criticism" and "our post-critical era" as a way to write about what I think I'm trying to do here. First, I fretted I was the kind of "de-skilled" critic Frieze was referring to. I have no degrees. I started out as an artist, stopped painting, and became a long-distance truck driver. My CB handle was "the Jewish Cowboy": Shalom, partner. I didn't begin writing criticism until I was almost 40. All I knew was I loved art and had to be in the art world. The truth is, I wasn't sure what Frieze meant by "de-skilled." It sounded vaguely bad. But to me de-skilled means unlearning other people's ideas of skill. All great contemporary artists, schooled or not, are essentially self-taught and are de-skilling like crazy. I don't look for skill in art; I look for originality, surprise, obsession, energy, experimentation, something visionary, and a willingness to embarrass oneself in public. Skill has nothing to do with technical proficiency; it has to do with being flexible and creative. I'm interested in people who rethink skill, who redefine or reimagine it: an engineer, say, who builds rockets from rocks.

The best critics look for the same things in contemporary criticism that they look for in contemporary art. But they also have an eye. Having an eye in criticism is as important as having an ear in music. It means discerning the original from the derivative, the inspired from the smart, the remarkable from the common, and not looking at art in narrow, academic, or "objective" ways. It means engaging uncertainty and contingency, suspending disbelief and trying to create a place for doubt, unpredictability, curiosity and openness.

Dishearteningly, many critics have ideas but no eye. They rarely work outside their comfort zone, are always trying to reign art in, turn it into a seminar or a clique, or write cerebral, unreadable texts on mediocre work. There's nothing wrong with writing about weak art as long as you acknowledge the work's shortcomings. Seeing as much art as you can is how you learn to see. Listening very carefully to how you see, gauging the levels of perception, perplexity, conjecture, emotional and intellectual response, and psychic effect, is how you learn to see better.

Art is a way of thinking, a way of knowing yourself. Opinions are tools for listening in on your thinking and expanding consciousness. Many writers treat the juiciest part of criticism, judgment, as if it were tainted or beneath them. The most interesting critics make their opinions known. Yet in most reviews there's no way to know what the writer thinks, or you have to scour the second-to-last paragraph for one negative adjective to detect a hint of disinclination. This is no-risk non-criticism. Being "post-critical" isn't possible. Everyone is judging all the time. Critics who tell you they're not judging or that they're being objective are either lying or delusional. Being critical of art is a way of showing it respect. Being subjective is being human.

Yet people regularly say, "You shouldn't write on things you don't like." This breaks my heart. No one says this to theater critics, film reviewers, restaurant critics, or sports writers. No one says, "Just say all the food was good." Nowadays, many see criticism mainly as a sales tool or a rah-rah device. Too many critics enthuse over everything they see or merely write descriptively. This sells everyone short and is creating a real disconnect. People report not liking 80 percent of the shows they see, yet 80 percent of reviews are positive or just descriptive.

Obviously, critics can't just hysterically love or hate things, or assert that certain types of art or media are inherently bad (e.g., no one has actually believed that painting is dead since the Nixon administration, yet writers regularly beat this dead horse). Critics must connect their opinions to a larger set of circumstances; present cogent arguments; show how work does or doesn't seem relevant, is or isn't derivative; explain why an artist is or isn't growing. As with Melville's ideas about art, criticism should have: "Humility -- yet pride and scorn/Instinct and study; love and hate/Audacity and reverence." Good criticism should be vulnerable, chancy, candid, and nervy. It should give permission, have attitude, maybe a touch of rebellion, never be sanctimonious or dull, and be written in a distinctive, readable way. Good critics should be willing to go on intuition and be unafraid to write from parts of themselves they don't really know they have.

If criticism is in trouble, as many say, it's because too many critics write in a dreary hip metaphysical jargon that no one understands except other dreary hip metaphysicians who speak this dead language. They praise everything they see, or only describe. These critics are like the pet owner who sews up the cat to stop it from fouling the sofa: Tbhey keep the couch clean but kill the cat.

©2005 Jerry Salt/ Village Voice


On Dec 31, 2005, at 8:46 PM, Judy & Jim Barrass wrote:

Scott Teplin wrote:
I'm just saddened that most of the time, when I see a book arts show - its with artists
books that are so painfully lacking in ideas.......

Having brought the artistsbooks online site to the attention of the list I feel I must reply to Scotts's somewhat negative comments:.
The State Libarary of Queensland has been a leader in collecting and promoting the genre of artist books in Australia and has contributed much to make a place for artist books within what Scott refers to as the 'established art world'. As a major step in this direction earlier this year, to celebrate the centenary of women's suffrage in Queensland, the library commissioned a number of Queensland artists to produce artist books for its collection. The somewhat controversial results of that commissioning process were certainly not 'painfully lacking in ideas'. In Australia the artist book field has not been so dominated by explorations of the book form as it has recently in the US - printmaking has played a large part in its development, as has the involvement of many recognised artists from other genres and some of our major teaching institutions
Having seen a small part of the over 500 books in the SLQ collection I can assure Scott that the books in this important collection are not lacking in content or ideas. Nor are they intended for a limited audience of the intitiated. The SLQ plays an important role, not only in collecting the work of artists and promoting artist books to the art world, but also in making art accessible to all through its collection. The website is evdience that the library is interested in working at grass roots level within the education system to have quality artist books units included in the school curriculum, and it seems this is the major goal in the artistsbooks online project:

" which is designed to closely link to the school curriculum and promote artists books as a valuable learning resource for teachers and students throughout Queensland. The Artists’ books in the State Library’s collection have always been popular for tours by student groups and our digitisation project is a great way to give rural and regional students access to this wonderful collection."

The website is very new, and some fine tuning may be necessary, but I do think congratulations are more appropriate than criticism.

Judy Barrass

Now Online - The Bonefolder, Vol. 2, No. 1 at <http://www.philobiblon.com/bonefolder>
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Scott Teplin
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New York Times News Service
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Now Online - The Bonefolder, Vol. 2, No. 1 at <http://www.philobiblon.com/bonefolder>
For all your subscription questions, go to the
Book_Arts-L FAQ and Archive.
See <http://www.philobiblon.com> for full information

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