Air Guitar and the art of Critiquing

Dave Hickey is currently professor of Art Criticism and Theory at Nevada University, Las Vegas.  Born in 1939 he is very much of the beat generation, having written extensively for American publications Rolling Stone, Art News, Art in America, Artforum, Harper’s Magazine, on a variety of music and art subjects.

Air Guitar has a narrative quality, offering glimpses into Hickey’s world, with the occasional cultural reference woven seemlessly into the text.  Whilst a similar format to the work of Siri Hustvedt, the style is less academic, a lighter read.  Base narratives range from Liberace to Waylon Jennings, from the art world portrayed through the lens of the automobile to the role  of the art critic, ‘..the primary virtue and usefulness of criticism resides in precisely its limitations, in the fact that the critic’s fragile linguistic tryst with the visible object is always momentary, ephemeral, and local to its context.’

Reflecting on Critiquing:

Critiquing entered my world last year.  It is not my strong point, so in line with my ‘back to basics’ approach, now is a good time to gain a better understanding of how to improve my skills.

The following are guide lines from Arts Edge.  I am also about to read Stella Cottrell’s Critical Thinking Skills, recommended in the OCA Weekender.


Describe the work without using value words such as “beautiful” or “ugly”:

  • What is the written description on the label or in the program about the work?
  • What is the title and who is (are) the artist(s)?
  • When and where was the work created?
  • Describe the elements of the work (i.e., line movement, light, space).
  • Describe the technical qualities of the work (i.e., tools, materials, instruments).
  • Describe the subject matter. What is it all about? Are there recognizable images?

Describe how the work is organized as a complete composition:

  • How is the work constructed or planned (i.e., acts, movements, lines)?
  • Identify some of the similarities throughout the work (i.e., repetition of lines, two songs in each act).
  • Identify some of the points of emphasis in the work (i.e., specific scene, figure, movement).
  • If the work has subjects or characters, what are the relationships between or among them?

Describe how the work makes you think or feel:

  • Describe the expressive qualities you find in the work. What expressive language would you use to describe the qualities (i.e., tragic, ugly, funny)?
  • Does the work remind you of other things you have experienced (i.e., analogy or metaphor)?
  • How does the work relate to other ideas or events in the world and/or in your other studies?
Judgment or Evaluation

Present your opinion of the work’s success or failure:




Audience, Engagement, Site, Display



Traditional way to make contact with an art work:

Erwin Panofsky – 3 stages of watching: describe what you see (concrete) , which theme is shown (iconographic), base the theme and the presentation in the historical context (religious, cultural, political, social tendencies)

Contemporary art:  watching a challenge – a process (Dr. Gabriele Wimböck, Dr. Alexander Glas, artist Rudolf Wachter)

  1. Keeping the curiosity and watching at irritation: what it is making irritation? what blocks my way into?
  2. own living and art experiences are projected onto the artwork – a dialogue between the self and the art can start being aware
  3. Taking knowledge like biographies, sources of inspiration, looking at the way of painting, material and texture etc.

article Denver Post: Ray Mark Rinaldi – art and active audience: participatory art changes audience  – source:

related artists: Anne Hamilton, Tino Sehgal, Rirkrit Tiravanija, Eiko & Koma

related “institution”: 21cmusemhotels

artist: Markuz Wernli Saitô art in public – art in public – source:  related artists: Seyed Alavi, Grady Gerbracht

Ted video with Jane Deeth, : What´s wrong with contemporary art? source:

Jane Deeth: “Engaging Strangeness in the Art Museum: an audience development stragedy” source:

webside with information/blog etc. by Jane Deeth – source:

Jane Deeth raises interesting insights:

1  Listen to the artwork, think about our fears, our disappointments and prejudices

2  Name what it is I dont like, examine what I dont like.  Is it learned, does it affect my behaviour.

3  Have a conversation around the dont likes.

Monika asks some personal questions:  Where are the borders in interacting?

What is my personal interaction with the audience? Which kind of connection do I want for myself?

Wouldn’t it be interesting to act as a child in the museum.


Mwamba’s view of the audience focused on Zambian issues of elitism, performance and location.

He asked ‘What happens to art when there is no audience?’  What indeed!


Emma considered the participation of the audience, marking on the floor, gestural, raw, merging accidental and intentional.  Tricia Brown, a choreographer explores the limits of her body

German artist Carsten Hollers explores slides in his Test Site at the Tate.  He encourages visitors to engage with his work in unusual ways.

Emma referenced the Manchester Hospital arts project, and its healing powers and Olafur Eliasson’s Weather Project, also at the Tate.

Olafur Eliasson: The Weather Project

Olafur Eliasson: The Weather Project

Serbian artist Marina Abramovitch risked death for her art with perhaps the ultimate audience participation performance, Rhythm 0, 1974.



Tanya considered the Arts Engagement Index by Artist Status which evidences greater involvement in the arts by income producing artists rather than non artists.  Cross-cultural interests also correlated strongly with higher levels of engagement.

The Australians have looked at methodologies for engagement and Ontario has studied engagement linked to attendance.

Tanya argues from experience that it is sometimes necessary to facilitate engagement, to lead the nervous, provide seating for ponderance, perhaps lower the eyeline, provide attendants with ‘let’s talk art’ badges, market and label.


Mathew cited Banksey’s Dismaland, where artist turns celebrity (  He noted the importance of the ‘welcome’, be it the building, the engagement of the artist with the audience, the participation of the audience.

I particularly enjoyed his pastiche on Ladybird books:  ‘”Is the art pretty?” says Jane.  “No,” says Mummy, “Pretty is not important.”  John does not understand.  “It is good not to understand.” says Mummy.  John doesn’t understand.’



Alison showed work outside and in public places (Red Shoes).  She spoke of audience participation, with Sleeping Beauties (Bellas Durmientes), where victims of domestic violence add their story to the web site, of comodification of work, the siting of work where it cannot be seen.


My approach to site was practical and focused on painting, from who initiates a project/exhibition, the focus/participants, the purpose, the possible locations.  I listed open competitions, online galleries, examples of sites from lifts to beach promenade to pop up to site specific.  I considered public and private funding, and the funding controversy of artists not being paid.


Ines talked of how art has moved from the museum walls to the street in Geneva.  She explored art found in woodland, ghosts, pictures, blue trees (funded by a watch company), sculpture.  She referenced Goodwood Sculpture Park, (, which I had forgotten about), work in a desert, weaving in trees, narrative painting where once might have been graffiti.



Maire chose to focus on displays within her home, highlighting the importance of a creative outlet and being true to yourself.  Asking ‘Does a display need an audience?’


Rob focused on the display of photography and the impact digitising has had on the size of work.

Reflecting on the Evening

Such a clever approach to research, divide and conquer.  We all brought something different and something of ourselves to our presentations.  The breadth and depth of the research, the focus, the direction could not have been achieved by one individual, not to mention the time it would have take to do so well.

The words of Jane Deeth will be ever present.

Thank you one and all.

There’s that Word Again

I first encountered Tim Ingold during Helen Rousseau’s lecture, when she made reference to his work Making: Anthropology, Archaeology, Art, Architecture.  Alexa Cox in her video also referred to Ingold’s Lines – A Brief History, as a key text.  I clearly needed to read Ingold and ‘lines’ as a subject is important to me, so I decided to start there.

Lines is a fascinating book about the history, the language and the notation of physical and metaphorical lines.  Professor Ingold is a social anthropologist and his work is filtered through this lens.  Whilst the style is not as poetic as Bachelard, the fine exploration of the elements of the work are reminiscent of Bachelard’s exploration of corners, doors, windows.

Of particular interest was the chapter on Traces, (that word again), Threads and Surface.  Most traces are additive, charcoal on paper, chalk on a blackboard, or reductive, lines that are scratched, scored or etched into a surface, but Ingold continues to explore the word.  From the trace of a lifeline on your hand, vapour in the sky, to Richard Long’s land art.

Richard Long, A Line Made by Walking, England 1967

Two images really spoke to me.  The charter script with its ‘threads’ attached but somehow free.


Fig 2.17 Ninth-century charter script

The process of teaching children through gestures in the air before committing to paper, the comparison of the calligrapher with the dancer ‘In calligraphy as in the dance, the performer concentrates all his energies and sensibilities into a sequence of highly controlled gestures.’ Ingold (2007): p134.  Wonderful images to which I will return.


Fig 5.6 Detail from calligraphy by Hsien-yu Shu (1256-1301)

He references Paul Klee ‘taking a line for a walk’.  More food for thought.

Much as Les Bicknell opened my eyes to the wider world of the ‘book’, Tim Ingold has written a definitive work on trace, thread surface and line, and the concepts they encompass, to which I will return again and again.

Further Intersections & Articulations

Following from Helen Rousseau’s seminar, we watched a video from Annabel Dover and listened to two presentations from Helen Paris and Alexa Cox.

Annabel Dover

Annabel is an OCA tutor and is currently undertaking a practice led PhD.  She starts with an emotional response to the art work, rather than leading with the theory.  She is recreating the work of Anna Atkins, whose cynotype prints are believed to be the earliest photographic work.  Through her practise Annabel has established that Atkins probably faked her work, resorting to cutting up/collaging her plants.

Annabel is drawn to objects and the invisible stories that surround them.  But why?  Why are objects important to her and not to me?

I dig deeper.  From a troubled background she candidly offers , ‘..objects highlighted the traumas, the disjunctures and the breaks in human relationships that made up the atmosphere of my upbringing.’1  Through subtle representation she explores their power as intercessionary agents, responding emotionally to the object, recording through drawing, painting, film, cynotype print.

Helen Paris PhD

Helen is the co-director, with Leslie Hill, of the longstanding performance based project Curious.  They are now associate professors in Performance Making at Stanford, California, teaching Practice Based Research in the Arts.

Each project starts with a question.  Recently ‘What are gut feelings?  Can you trust them?’ and another ‘What smells remind you of home?’

Their productions have taken place in homes with audiences limited to 4.  The up closeness of the audience and their participation is important to Paris.  The work is informed by biological scientists in India, where they share dialogue, process and experimentation.

Alexa Cox

Alexa, who gained her MA in Fine Art at the OCA last year, sees her role as a story teller through drawing and painting.  She works in series ‘like the pages of a book’, admiring the work of Peter Doig, Paula Rego and Francesca Woodman.

Originally her work was a place of research, making and applying a theory.  Now she is developing a spare visual language, with ambiguous trace figures.

Her research includes stories and anthropological text, recording ideas with a camera, and much drawing in a playful and experimental way.  She uses mind mapping and Venn diagrams to draw out ideas/make connections, and referenced Bachelard and Ingold’s Lines.

Her process is to make, reflect, learn for next work.  Challenge everything.  Why can I?  Can’t I?  Risk taking is essential to get better.

Recently she has reduced her colour palette, to focus on the composition.  Her trace figures appearing over and over again, emerging, capturing the gesture, the authentic line.

Trace Dance 1.8 (2014) Acrylic on canvas


She is currently researching Simon Schama’s landscape and memory. Spills/stains/threads/spaces with small pieces of work for practical reasons.

Reflecting on the subject Intersections & Articulations

The penny dropped with Alexa’s presentation, perhaps because she is a painter and speaks in a language I can understand.

What is that saying about me?  Am I being too literal, rather than reading between the language?  With Helen , Annabel and Helen I was ‘observing’ what they were saying, and whilst it made sense and was interesting, the connection stopped there.  With Alexa I was experiencing her practice, her thought process;  I was there with her.  This could be because I am just behind Alexa on her journey, whereas the others feel like they are on a distant academic horizon that I am unlikely to see, or is it that I am just not embracing?

What I now understand is that Intersections & Articulations is about where I came from, where I am now, where I am going and how I am getting there.  Good question!


Switch off the Light

I first came across John Skinner when reading Emily Ball’s book Drawing and Painting People.  From the commonality of their work it was clear that he was her tutor.  He runs occasional master classes at Ball’s studio in Partridge Green.

I wanted to know more about the man.  From his web site I knew he had worked in Dorset and now lived in France, but the details were factual and I wanted to understand what made him tick, what inspired him.

Switch off the Light and Let Me Try on Your Dress written by Sara Hudson, with illustrations by John, is a slim, limited edition book, published by Agre who specialise in quirky subject matter from the South West of England.  The book takes it’s title from the painting on the front cover.


Skinner, who titles his work on completion, ‘to explore the quality of the work.’, believes that his title ‘breaks the ice’ and offers a way in given that ‘paintings convey ideas that cannot be rendered into words.’  1

Reading about John Skinner reminded me of David Bomberg, a passionate voice, but not quite being heard.  ‘The painter strives to communicate physical feelings that embody ideas…. It’s about investigating the nature of things through the process of painting.’ 2

His work is powerful, challenging and evocative.  He is tough, passionate (painting daily from Nov to Feb one year in a tent on a Dorset beach) and uncompromising.  I also get the impression that he is slightly bewildered that he is not part of the mainstream.


1/2  Hudson Sara, Skinner John (2002),  Switch off the Light and Let Me Try on Your Dress. Agre, Dorset



Jerwood Drawing Prize

I attended the study day led by Bryan Eccleshall.  My intention was to better understand the scope of the term ‘drawing’.  It was a bonus that earlier that week Bryan had been awarded one of the two student prizes for his submission, so he was able to impart ‘insider knowledge’ on how the process worked and offer encouragement to those present to ‘have a go’.


Bryan’s drawing of Free and unpredictable … After Joseph Beuys’ ‘Wirtshaftswerte

I wasnt disappointed by the scope of the work.  From traditional drawings  to pinpricks, from scratched pans to a video of the lines on a   003

runway, from a plastic thread and perspex sculpture to a beautiful embroidered textile pelvis and a notebook documenting every nut/bolt/screw in the drawer’s shed.


Seeing the works through Bryan’s eyes really added to the experience.  We disagreed about the winner

Detail in the detail … section of From Andrew's Flat, Singapore, by Tom Harrison, 2015 winner of the Jerwood drawing prize

a section of which is detailed in the Guardian article.  Bryan felt it was a worthy winner, the Guardian called it poetic, I felt it was bland, the roofs lacked credibility and the work lacked passion for me.

My personal favourite of the conventional  images was an exquisitely detailed drawing of an outdoor space that you could revisit again and again and still not see it all.


Back to Basics

If I am going in the right direction with subject matter and the reading supporting that, then now is the time to get back to basics with regard to materials.

For years I have painted intuitively, sometimes with glorious technicoloured results.  Now is the time to inform that intuitive approach.  Starting with paint I am going to explore colour combinations and properties, so that I have more control, particularly with regard to subtlety.

I will be researching the history of colour and the impact different colours have on our emotions.  This together with my continuing research into harnessing the unconscious mind creatively, will inform my research question for this year,  which is currently, What Am I Trying to Say?

I am starting with yellow and blue mixed green






I don’t feel this way has worked so I am going to try a simpler method.  I want to build a reference library of colour combinations and reactions.

001 002 003 004 005006

Where Am I Now?

Caroline has requested a short statement of between 50 and 100 words and up to 6 images of work I would like to discuss at our tutorial next week.  Simple!  But is it?  On reflection, this is the crux of my dilemma.

On the system I spot Level 3 courses (final year of BA?) and checkout the very gentle Elizabeth Blackadder in her studio.  A career based on the delicate and sometimes watercolour representation of flora.  There is also a guide to assembling your thoughts, ideas and interests.  In the absence of a better starting point for my response to Caroline (it doesn’t hurt to go back to basics, for that is where I feel I am at the moment), I make my list:

.    Colour, bold or subtle

.    Transparency

.    Edges

.    Disturbance, lack of control of the outcome

.    Not quite comfortable viewing

.    Then, now and now again, as if recording the history of emotional         footprints

Now to record all ideas/thoughts/interests on post-its, and see what bubbles up from my unconscious mind.


Shapes, mood, subtelty, windows




Charleston, local connection, mood, emotional connection


Masking, highlighting, overworking



Experimenting with paper over canvas with edges, image masked and overworked


Monotone working of family images


Emotional response to place to be overworked

Reflecting on Tutorial

Having explained where I am trying to come from, Caroline confirmed that she felt I am working in the right direction and that I am taking risks in what I am trying to do.  I need to do more and be better informed, so that it follows through into my work.


Letting Go…

I know this is the year to take risks, big risks.  What I don’t yet know is what those risks are.  It is not that I am afraid to, far from it.  I just don’t yet seem to be in tune with what a risk is.

I have spent the summer understanding the mind, it’s power and how to seize back control; understanding intuition and how to tap into it; accessing the unconscious mind and how to use it creatively;  how to shift my perception from ‘left – logical’ to ‘right creative’.  I am practising techniques for ‘letting go’.  I have researched the work of dozens of artists, with the aim of gaining resonance within myself.  I have spoken to Rosi in year 3 to determine whether it is an ‘age’ thing.  My head is swimming and the term is only a few hours old.

I spent very little time creating last year, choosing to rightly focus on bringing myself up to speed with the art world, it’s history and it’s players.  This year is all about identifying my personal barriers and blasting through them.

My aim for this year is quite simple.  I want to produce authentic, contemporary work, preferably in watercolour.  I would like to be recognised for what I am achieving.

Summer Reading – a Voyage Inside My Head

The plan had been to research colour, colour history and symbolism, but I got distracted, and that is now my next reading project.

Eric R Kandel – The Age of Insight

The Summer started with Nobel Prize winner Eric R Kandel’s The Age of Insight, The Quest to Understand the Unconscious in Art, Mind and Brain, from Vienna 1900 to the Present.  (Thank you Monika!)  Long fascinated with the power of the unconscious mind (UM), I am slowly beginning to understand that this is how I work and may be the reason I have such trouble explaining my process, and answering the simple question, ‘What Am I Trying To Say’.

Kandel, a world leader in neuroscience and intellectual history, examines the intersection of psychology, neuroscience and art through the lens of 1900 Viennese culture.  In this academic work Kandel effortlessly weaves these three disciplines, the Vienna School of Medicine, the work of Sigmund Freud, the writing of Arthur Schnitzler with supporting artwork from Gustav Klimt, Oskar Kokoschka and Egon Schiele.

Split into five sections:

1    A psychoanalytical psychology and art of unconscious emotion

2    A cognitive psychology of visual perception and emotional      response to art

3    Biology of the beholder’s visual response to art

4    Biology of the beholder’s emotional response to art

5    An evolving dialogue between visual art and science

I didn’t understand it all and at over 500 pages, it was a lot to absorb, but it is in my unconscious, somewhere, and I will revisit this amazing work from time to time.

Ted Falconer – Creative Intelligence and Self Liberation 

I have owned this book for a number of years, since my NLP training, but it was only after reading Kandel, that my UM directed me to it.  The sub title, ‘Korzybski, Non-Aristotelion Thinking and Eastern Realization gives a clue to the scope of this slim volume and the skill with which Falconer succeeds in distilling a diverse range of sources, to produce an outstanding insight into creative intelligence and how to free yourself from rigid patterns of thought.

Edward De Bono – The  5-Day Course in Thinking

A slim practical and insightful guide to opening the thought process, to see the world in other ways.

Donna Tartt – The Goldfinch

My poolside book, all 800 pages.  Angela had mentioned Pulitzer Prize-winning Tartt during our creative writing session, for her style and subject matter.  I enjoyed her eloquent prose and the woven thread of art history, but I found her characters weak (I thought the main character was female for the first 100 pages).  The storyline, whilst engaging, was overly long, with large tracts that could easily have been condensed.  Her writing reminded me of a modern day Colette, where her enjoyment was in the descriptive, with the ‘gripping’ storyline an editorial request.

Lisa Genova – Still Alice

A surprisingly  lighter and enjoyable read by the neuroscientist Lisa Genova, who with her first novel offers an authentic insight into Alzheimers and Dementia, of which my family has  a history.  A clever way for a scientist to create greater awareness of the condition and it’s early stages.  Just as everyone should learn CPR and the F.A.S.T. stroke recognition, everyone should read or see the film, to be able to spot the early warning signs.

Eckhart Tolle – The Power of Now

I read and watched Tolle a few years ago and couldn’t comprehend what he was saying.  A friend suggested that I re-read as I am now in a different place.  Glad I did.

His message is so simple.  There is only now, this second.  Fear and anxiety, those twin devils of the mind are illusions of time, past and future.  Once the mind has lost it’s control, it is then available for the work that it was intended to do, namely, support.

I need to understand his concept of ‘surrender’, and work on that and forgiveness, to be really free, but I feel I have made huge progress in my quest to harness my intuition and let go of my ‘clutter’.

Lynne McTaggart – The Field

This book, written as a scientific detective story, is an astonishing read.  At it’s heart is the evidence that an energy field, the Zero Point Field, connects everything in the universe.  McTaggart  eases the reader through the history of the discovery of this energy field, effortlessly bringing together individuals practising throughout the world, from disciplines as diverse as quantum physicists, philosophers, electrical engineers, astronauts, a theoretical biophysicist, medical doctors, engineers, mathmaticians, research scientists.

Her skill is to distil a vast amount of leading edge scientific research into an accessible format, which she succeeds in achieving admirably.  The scientific explanation for homeopathy, for distance and self healing, the power of ‘prayer’, the power of the individual and collective unconscious, levitation, fuel-less travel, the realisation that the bedrocks of Newton and Darwin were probably wrong, are all here.  The energy of the writing is so hopeful, that you believe the world is in a position to move forward with this abundance of knowledge, but sadly that is not the case.  We learn that the promised happy ending is not to be with most of the key players marginalised within the scientific and world stage.

Penney Pierce – Leap of Perception

Again a book I had had for some time, which I felt could help me move from the historic dominance of the use of the logical, left side of my brain (although I now appreciate from The Field that this isn’t strictly true), to the creative right side of my brain.  What I actually learnt was so much more powerful.

We are entering the Intuition Age, the age of rapidly expanding possibilities.  Continuing the idea of energy fields, Pierce explains and provides exercises to increase your energy frequency, to attract more of what you desire into your world, releasing your ego and attachments, developing telepathy, integrating physical and non-physical worlds and, what she terms ‘pretend dying’.

A fascinating read requiring an open mind and a willingness to practise the exercises without scepticism.

Reflecting on my new found knowledge

There is a seriously wide world out there that bears no relationship to landscape and accepted beliefs.  Spiritual and primitive beings have known for years, but in a world where everything must be scientifically proven to be ‘true’, we are only just beginning to catch up.

I am not religious, which I think has helped my journey into the unknown.  I have always felt that the space between ‘things’ is full of ‘thoughts’ being released into the universe.  McTaggart, Pierce and Tolle support that view.  Pierce has opened my eyes to the possibilities.  What I now need to do is reflect over the next year on how my knowledge and new skills (still in their infancy) can best be used to develop my work.  I still don’t know what I am trying to say, but I am now more confident that my unconscious mind and the power of the collective unconscious mind are available to me and there to support me.