Spurred on by many reasons, including Gemma Tipton’s latest blog (here), I’ve been thinking yet again about the nature of art criticism. Picture this. If you’re doing any sort of academic research, as you read one text you form a list of must-read texts that have been referenced by this first text. By the time you had read 100 texts (not an unusual number for a thesis), you could have a must-read list 1,000 items long. And so, with any exercise in academic writing, there is an ‘ah, feck it’ moment at which the scales tip away from an insurmountable pile of reading, and towards writing something.
I think something similar can happen with art-making. You’ve done your bits of research, you’ve sketched, doodled, daydreamed, fantasised, procrastinated, but finally you go ‘ah, feck it’ and launch into making something. You’ll probably throw the first piece away, but the research is now through your own practice, and the scales have tipped. (David Brancaleone has been blogging on this site around this theory / practice divide – more here).
And there are some cross-over artists, who do things like display all the books they’ve read while thinking about a problem – the display itself may be the artwork; I’m guessing you could number such artists in the thousands. It would probably be more fun to see all the books and lists of texts that they haven’t read, but meant to; I’m sure it’s been done, but by fewer artists.
Back on the theory side of art criticism, I recently read a text in which the writer (‘A’), referenced B’s take on C’s take on a topic. C, being a famous art theorist, no doubt had takes on D’s interpretation of E. It wasn’t true in this case, but with a bit of luck you could probably find cases in which E interprets A’s oeuvre. We have not only a combinatorial explosion to cope with, but a situation in which both meaning and psychological capacity are pushed to the limits. There are some writers who appear to carry this feat off – they must combine speed-reading abilities with staggering memories with an unlikely lack of other commitments with no need to sleep – though even some of these writers are very modest about the limits of what they can get through. I’m interested in this stuff because of the psychology of art criticism, which I don’t see being thought about much. But I’m also interested because even the greatest minds must reach a moment where they dump the rest, sweep the desktop / workbench / etc clean, go ‘ah, feck it’, and act.