Since I started my MA I have been collecting words that are new to me, like foot prints on my journey. The latest, Dialectic, happens to be the name for the Provocations we experienced last night, but I encountered the word in Sarah Thornton’s excellent book, Seven Days in the Art World. Reading the chapter on the Crit, is a bit of a light-bulb moment.
The Crit, for MA students in their second year (of two), at CalArts in California is headed by Michael Asher, the minimalist ‘situational interventionist’, best known for his work at the Claire Copley gallery in Los Angeles in 1974. The event as described, is critiquing the work of three students, out of twenty four. It starts at 10am and finishes after midnight. An immense pressure on the students to articulate and defend their intentions, something Dave Hickey, the critic, disagrees with. While Mary Kelly, Asher’s colleague argues that ‘Moreover, artists don’t fully understand what they’ve made, so other people’s readings can help them “see at a conscious level” what they have done… its about being open to the possibility of what you could know.’ One student described the crit as ‘..a deep inquiry so as to expose a dialectic.’
Leslie Dick, tutor at CalArts, California, talking about MA students half way through their 2 year course, explains ‘Everything goes to pieces in the first year and it comes together in the second year. Often the people who are making sense are the ones for whom it hasn’t started working yet. They’ve still got all their defenses up.’
At CalArts, conceptual artist and tutor, Charles Gaines explains ‘Criticality is a strategy for the production of knowledge. Our view is that art should interrogate the social and cultural ideas of our time.’ Thornton states ‘Criticality is the code word for a model of art-making that foregrounds research and analysis rather than instincts and intuition.’ At CalArts creativity is a dirty word, ‘a very personal process that cannot be taught.’
CalArts does not encourage painting, although Eric Fischl trained there. The dean, Scottish painter, Thomas Lawson, added ‘I am a painter and I know that painting is not about talking.’
This perhaps sheds some light on why I struggle to understand the fundamentals, why I am spending 90% of my time writing and thinking, and not painting, and why my pursuit of a better understanding of instinct and intuition was academically the wrong direction. It is also reassuring to note that not all in art academia share that view.
As for my ‘foot prints’, I am sure they will manifest into some sort of work in the future, but here is a good place to rest them while I gather up my ‘pieces’ in the second half of my journey.