Category Archives: Sep ’15

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