The Pen Is Mightier Than the Brush? Looking at 6 Famous Artist-Critics | Art for Sale | Artspace
Phoenix's art scene is changing and evolving. Mikey Estes reflects on what he learned as a young artist in Arizona, from the ASU arts bubble to. Art critic and artist Peter Plagans discusses contemporary art and its relationship to popular culture. Citation: Commentary on the relationship between artists and critics, between and Philip Evergood papers, Archives of American Art.
This extraordinary earthwork set the tone and style for much of the great land art to come. For a start, Jetty was imperious. Before Jetty, earthworks - works of art relating to the soil beneath us - had tended to be intimate, parochial, even chatty. Spiral Jetty, with its declamatory size, its grandiloquent setting in the desert, was in stark contrast. For the first time, a work of American art had tried to match the epic grandeur of the west itself.
Spiral Jetty was also key because of its remoteness. The piece established the principle that proper land art should be a long way away, and worthy of an arduous pilgrimage. In other words, the relationship of land art to its viewers should be a bit like that of a medieval cathedral to a medieval peasant.
Jetty had another quality that is characteristic of land art: Despite its size, the piece has proved vulnerable to the whims of nature. Smithson built his piece unwittingly, some say on a lake whose levels rise and fall over time.
This means the piece has spent many years underwater, invisible. At the moment, because of drought, it is landlocked and covered in a thick mantle of glittering salt crystals. In its mortality, Spiral Jetty established the principle that land art should rise, erode and eventually disappear, like the cliffs and beaches of nature.
Robert Smithson died inin a plane crash, while working on his next earthwork, the Amarillo Ramp in Texas. But the baton had already been handed on. The California artist Walter de Maria had contributed an earth-filled room to the Dwan Gallery exhibition. It was one of the more celebrated pieces, but De Maria became truly famous only when, a few years later, he finished Lightning Field.
This artwork comprised stainless-steel javelins, stuck in the hostile wastes of New Mexico - like a tray of giant cocktail sticks. Designed to attract spectacular lightning in a storm-prone area, Lightning Field was widely praised for its precise beauty and shimmering cleverness. But it was also one of the first land art works to come in for criticism - as ecological vandalism.
People were starting to ask questions about the validity of such huge and "arrogant" intrusions into precious wilderness. Following Lightning Field - and perhaps as a consequence of it - there was a hiatus in land art.
Despite other s works such as Nancy Holt's Sun Tunnels, the force seemed to leave the epic poets of the move ment. In time the newer land artists, such as Richard Long and Andrew Goldsworthy in England, turned once again to sweeter, humbler, more "sensitive" work. Thirty years on, it is possible to argue that the bigger artists hadn't disappeared: Take the Dwan gallery alumnus Michael Heizer.
Soon after the exhibition closed, he finished Double Negative.
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This is a brutal and enormous incision across a valley near Mormon Mesa, Nevada. The construction of Double Negative involved the abstraction oftonnes of blasted rock. But ever since Double Negative, Heizer has quietly been working on an even larger project, called City.
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This is the first of that trio of late, great land art edifices now nearing their completion. A description of Heizer's crowning lifework is difficult: However, some assistants at the Dia Foundation in New York a wealthy arts trust that curates many important land art pieces are willing to speak on his behalf. A handful of lucky invitees have even seen the work itself, locked away on Heizer's vast Nevada ranch. Combining their testimony, and viewing their photos, it is possible to gain an impression of City as it stands.
Heizer was inspired to build City after a visit to the ancient Mexican temple complex of Chichen Itza. Certainly, the truncated brown pyramids, sun-cracked ochre pavements and giant tilting stone slabs each weighing 1, tonnes capture some of the imposing and worshipful silence of the greatest Mexican ruins.
Corners of the mile-wide site of City could be Mayan ballcourts straight from the Yucatan. But there is another emotional analogy. Visitors to Mexican ruins such as Chichen Itza or Monte Alban know that these places are tragic in ambience: Heizer's City echoes some of this melancholy. The artist has sacrificed half his life to this project, reportedly at a cost to his health. Some say the decades of unrewarded labour have unsettled the artist's mind: Heizer is alleged to fire his guns at anyone foolish enough to fly over the site.
City is scheduled to be finished in the next year or so. But that long-awaited event may depend on the whims of Heizer. That reflects my own background. I became a film critic kind of by accident. Whatever relevant academic training I have is in literary studies. So it was fun to write about poetry, because I used to do that a lot more, and a lot of my thinking about how to practice criticism came out of studying literature.
So I was surprised to find myself thinking about Renaissance painting and Greek poetry and the Romantics, and all of that. It was also my favourite thing about writing this book—how far I could get away from my regular beat while staying true to the kind of writing that I like to do.
Did you set out to find these analogue figures, or were they already in mind when you were mapping out your overall structure?
It was a little bit of both. I read it and realized it was sort of the whole argument of the book in those twenty lines, which was pretty serendipitous. One of the things that your book makes very clear is that thinking and feeling are not separate components of criticism; you seem to see them as inextricably linked. Pleasure and thinking are not distinct. To enjoy something is to enjoy thinking about it. Is the act of writing itself pleasurable for you?
I mean, writing can be agonizing, as you know, as anybody who writes knows. There is some pleasure too, in the struggle for the right word or the right structure or formulation in tone. Writing is something I avoid for as long as I can, and then when I do it, I enjoy it. The anxiety of writing is expressed in the book through the intermittent dialogues that you have with yourself.
It underlines the idea that a critic can be of two minds about their opinions even as they develop and express them.
Hedging is part of the process. It can make readers impatient. It may make readers of this book impatient.
This epic Earth | Art and design | The Guardian
I have a tendency to try to look at arguments from both sides and to work dialectically. I try to entertain those. Those dialogue sections of the book, which I cribbed from Oscar Wilde in The Decay of Lying and The Critic as Artist, were meant to represent that ambivalence, or that quarrelling with oneself.
They were also a way to effectively dramatize what criticism is, which is an endless argument. I wanted to knock myself down right away and approach the reader not as a priestly authority—with all of the weight of the New York Times behind me—but as a person trying to figure stuff out, which is all I ever feel like I am, and all I ever can be.
What gives you the right? This is something where I am making the case for my own abilities every time I sit down to do it. Film criticism is, in my experience, a very charged lightning rod, because cinema is a largely democratized art form. And yes, everybody goes to the movies, which is ingrained in the history of film critics, with James Agee, and Robert Warshow and Otis Ferguson.
The first important film critics approached their jobs very explicitly in this way. Agee was the same way.
In The Nation, he told his readers he was an amateur, and that he would just write about what he saw. He was one of the greatest film critics ever, partly because he was an extraordinary writer, and he kept that amateur status out in front while finding intelligent things to say. In France or Germany, the intellectual culture is different and the ideas about film are a bit different; here, movies are a vernacular art and they demand a vernacular form of criticism.
They resist specialization and expertise. If you read an opera critic or an architecture critic or even the theater critic in a newspaper, you feel like this person is an expert, and that their readership should defer. Not so with film criticism. They said that it was terrible and boring, and just a lot of action. It can be tricky to try to engage with what the audience is seeing and responding to versus what you think is there.
Auden has this great line about how if somebody only likes soggy boiled cabbage, there are only two ways to persuade them otherwise.