Can Artists and Critics be Friends?
This can of worms
has been opened before, but I finally feel capable of talking about it. Recent storm surges in the contemporary art market have yielded a flurry of "too good to be true" writings about the arts world today. Renowned critics from The Guardian
have started blogging, and their increased output has had a visible effect on the amount of arts writing that circulates. Since London and New York are benefiting from more savvy (or more gullible) art buyers, it is only natural that the scenes begin to deconstruct themselves. The article in question deals with practicing gallery artists and widely circulated critics. One category - guess which one - is on a continuous rise, while the other category is in sharp decline.
I am a critic yet also consider myself an artist, though not of the plastic arts. I have participated in, directed, or conceived performance pieces that have been seen by hundreds, have worked in films to varying capacities, and have acted in front of thousands. It is, admittedly, hard for critics or academics to also find careers as artists. Peter Wollen is known primarily for his film theory, but he has also directed a number of groundbreaking films and has a keen eye for art. Norman O. Brown is best remembered for his studies in psychoanalysis and religion, but he was also a poet. For example, one of his fragmented poems, "Metamorphosis II: Actaeon" appeared in New American Poetry
and is part of his anthology Apocalypse and/or Metamorphosis
- it befits Walter Benjamin's dream of a poem made entirely of re-assembled quotations. Many critics or scholars have participated in the production of art in some fashion and therefore understand the ego-aspect of being an artist. While some will hold that critics and artists represent opposite ends of the spectrum - to some, they are the veritable Eros and Thanatos of the creative world - I maintain that they are more similar than can be quickly deduced.
To both the artist and the critic, art matters. Artists subscribe to various different dicta, though it can perhaps safely be said that they create because of a perceived lack...that is, their talents, once carried to fruition, will provide the world with something that it would have otherwise missed had they not produced a work of art. Likewise, critics "work" because they feel that the art establishment, writ large, can do better. Art is important to them, so they wish to challenge it, engage it, and hope that it can continue to affect its audience.
I am friends with artists of many different sorts. Some have immersed their talents in the realm of pop culture, while others make rarefied works for discerning audiences. Some are famous, others are not. Some create art as a career, others do not. For some, my relationship as friend precedes our professional relationship. In the past, I have approached artists professionally and have latter found that we got along well.
My point is that the artist/critic relationship can be symbiotic and need not be maliciously parasitic. Artists should challenge critics but should not be afraid to engage them on a personal level. Likewise, critics should understand that artists are both human and creative, and that the undesirable aspects of one need not necessarily affect the other.