A Twitter Response on Art Criticism – The Transcript

The January 27th, 2012, Boston Globe review of the deCordova Biennial caused quite a stir in the Boston artscene– Critic Sebastian Smee’s first sentence tells us why:

Horrible news to have to share (brace yourselves), but the second deCordova Biennial – the preeminent survey of contemporary art made by artists living and working in New England – is a major letdown.

Boston artist and Gloucester MacDowell Colony Fellow 2009-10 Rachel Perry Welty responded to Mr. Smee’s criticism by writing a letter to the Editor. In it, Ms. Welty writes “If Smee could spend more time looking thoughtfully and less time writing reviews “coddled in cleverness’’ (his words) we might all learn something.”

I agree with Rachel Perry Welty. If we all spend more time looking and less talking, writing about or tweeting an exhibition—rather than dismissing a work because we don’t like it or it isn’t our favorite—we may learn a lot about ourselves and maybe in the process transform the way we experience art.

The conversation on art criticism did not end with Ms. Welty’s letter to the Editor. Instead, we continued it over on Twitter where a thoughtful discussion emerged. This is the transcript of the talk. If I have missed a tweet or two, please forgive me as it was a challenge to collect all of them for this transcript.

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Anulfo Baez @EvolvingCritic
The kind of “criticism” Smee does for the Globe does nothing for #BostonArts. Great letter by @rpwelty bo.st/wUXjvp
10:39 AM – 13 Feb 12

Anulfo Baez @EvolvingCritic
He described himself as being a bully. There’s a difference between being a bully & being critical. Be critical & not a bully. #BostonArts
10:41 AM – 13 Feb 12

Anulfo Baez @EvolvingCritic
Some of these #BostonArts critics make me feel zzZZZZzzzzz.
10:42 AM – 13 Feb 12

Anulfo Baez @EvolvingCritic
I don’t waste my time writing/blogging about things that bore me to death or things I hate & make me want to scream. #BostonArts
10:47 AM – 13 Feb 12

Anulfo Baez @EvolvingCritic
Why? I don’t get paid & it’ll just make me a miserable human being. Some of Smee’s criticism make him sound miserable & pompous.#BostonArts
10:49 AM – 13 Feb 12

Anulfo Baez @EvolvingCritic
I haven’t ranted in a while, but how can #BostonArts grow with bullies out here just waiting to attack?! There’s no growth!
10:51 AM – 13 Feb 12

Anulfo Baez @EvolvingCritic
I never finished reading his “critique” of the @deCordovaSPandM Biennial. So sickening. When will we ever learn that being a bully isn’t OK?
10:55 AM – 13 Feb 12

Christian Holland @CRHolland
@EvolvingCritic For critic, who’s more important? Artists or readers (art’s audience)? Crit of Smee may b valid, but he writes for reader.
11:01 AM – 13 Feb 12

Anulfo Baez @EvolvingCritic
.@CRHolland I get it, but what good does it do #BostonArts, saying things along the lines of “I have better things to do on a Saturday?”
11:08 AM – 13 Feb 12

Stephanie Cardon @S_Cardon
.@evolvingcritic @CRHolland Good criticism is absolutely necessary in Boston, but the scene is too small for critics not to take risks too

Anulfo Baez @EvolvingCritic
@CRHolland his writing makes me not want to support #bostonarts, but I know better of course, others may not and they’re being fed his words
11:10 AM – 13 Feb 12

Christian Holland @CRHolland
@EvolvingCritic re: “others may not and they’re being fed his words” Have faith in readers. If u keep fighting 4 better crit. It will come.
11:30 AM – 13 Feb 12

Rachel Perry Welty @rpwelty
The Boston Globe published my letter to the Editor today. Bitter cold brisk walk around Village. Studio time on LIML projects. Venison stew.
11:58 PM – 12 Feb 12

Stephanie Cardon @S_Cardon
.@rpwelty I am impressed with you for taking this stand. Bullying does hinder artistic risk-taking #Bostonarts bo.st/wUXjvp
11:09 AM – 13 Feb 12

Christian Holland @CRHolland
@EvolvingCritic Don’t make me sound like I’m defending him. :-)
11:16 AM – 13 Feb 12

Anulfo Baez @EvolvingCritic
.@CRHolland I’m not making you sound like you’re defending him. We’re having a convo and if ppl are interest they can read the thread. :)
11:18 AM – 13 Feb 12

Christian Holland @CRHolland
@EvolvingCritic He wrote “I missed this particular spectacle, having other things to do most Saturdays…” Not good, but not “better things.”
11:15 AM – 13 Feb 12

Anulfo Baez @EvolvingCritic
@CRHolland that’s why I said “along the lines of” because I didn’t have the letter in front of me to copy.
11:19 AM – 13 Feb 12

Christian Holland @CRHolland
@EvolvingCritic I was responding to what Welty wrote in her letter. (wasn’t aimed at you)
11:25 AM – 13 Feb 12

Anulfo Baez @EvolvingCritic
@CRHolland no no I didn’t get that impression at all. I knew you were responding to Welty.
12:09 PM – 13 Feb 12

Christian Holland @CRHolland
@EvolvingCritic I think @rpwelty weakened her argument against @SebastianSmee‘s “‘criticism'” by suggesting that artists are victims of it.
11:17 AM – 13 Feb 12

Stephanie Cardon @S_Cardon
Don’t entirely disagree w @SebastianSmees dislike for ‘lightweight gestures of cling film conceptualism’ cc: @EvolvingCritic Will have to see
11:26 AM – 13 Feb 12

Montserrat Gallery @montgallery
RT @S_Cardon: .@evolvingcritic @CRHolland What is “good criticism”?

Stephanie Cardon @S_Cardon
Devoting as much attention the idea of a work as to its formal qualities, for one thing. RT @montgallery: What is “good criticism”?
11:40 AM – 13 Feb 12

Christian Holland @CRHolland
@montgallery Good criticism = Clearly stated ideas backed by valid arguments – According to my 10th grade English teacher :-)
11:40 AM – 13 Feb 12

Stephanie Cardon @S_Cardon
meant to say: Devoting as much attention TO the idea of a work as to its formal qualities @montgallery What is “good” criticism?
11:45 AM – 13 Feb 12

John Pyper @johnpyper
@CRHolland I think that RPW is dealing with only one part of smee’s issues and that doesn’t weaken that part of the argument(s).
11:48 AM – 13 Feb 12

John Pyper @johnpyper
@montgallery good criticism is plausible, surprising, and compelling.
11:49 AM – 13 Feb 12

Anulfo Baez @EvolvingCritic
@S_Cardon @SebastianSmee I don’t entirely disagree either with what I read. I didn’t finish it though, so I’m honest about that.
12:10 PM – 13 Feb 12

Stephanie Cardon @S_Cardon
Furthermore @montgallery – good critics don’t equate “I don’t like it” with “it’s bad”. Sometimes the stuff we recoil from gives us the most
12:13 PM – 13 Feb 12

Ricardo De Lima @rdelima
I, fan of polemic, don’t find fault with @SebastianSmee criticism of the deCordova show. The Boston art scene is where Ponzi meets Polyanna
12:16 PM – 13 Feb 12

Stephanie Cardon @S_Cardon
Doesn’t the Ponzi follow from the tiny amount of art critics to begin with? RT @rdelima: The Boston art scene is where Ponzi meets Polyanna
12:26 PM – 13 Feb 12

a @quipped
Objective. @montgallery What is “good” criticism?
12:26 PM – 13 Feb 12

a @quipped
Oh, and balanced. It’s important to understand the intent to judge the result. @montgallery What is “good” criticism?
12:35 PM – 13 Feb 12

a @quipped
I think critisism forces it to function outside of a vacuum. Gives it legs. “@montgallery what is criticism meant to do for the art?
1:46 PM – 13 Feb 12

Montserrat Gallery @montgallery
@quipped isn’t art criticism within Art vacuum? Almost 2 distinct responsibilities 1 critique work + curators, 2 connect readers to the work
1:59 PM – 13 Feb 12

a @quipped
@montgallery I think it can be, but the purpose or function is to release it from the artist, to discuss in order to liberate it.
2:01 PM – 13 Feb 12

a @quipped
@montgallery I think if art critique is a vacuum itself, perhaps we are paying to much attention to the artist, not the art.
2:02 PM – 13 Feb 12

Ricardo De Lima @rdelima
@S_Cardon Not enough critics, so I find it a service when those five or six souls and their deadlines don’t collude with the locals.
12:35 PM – 13 Feb 12

Stephanie Cardon @S_Cardon
@rdelima agreed. Don’t think today’s polemic criticizes criticism per say only the prima donna approach enabled by critical scarcity.
12:42 PM – 13 Feb 12

Christian Holland @CRHolland
@johnpyper But for RPW’s closing, we have to accept that crit is for artists & there4 artists r victims of bad criticism, which I don’t buy.
12:49 PM – 13 Feb 12

John Pyper @johnpyper
@CRHolland Fair enough, but i think that her point is that when it’s not ‘good’ he’d rather shit on something than think about it.
12:51 PM – 13 Feb 12

Christian Holland @CRHolland
@johnpyper But I see what you mean!
12:52 PM – 13 Feb 12

John Pyper @johnpyper
@CRHolland I think that criticism should be met like praise, thanks them but consider the source. Not everyone’s positive opinion is helpful
1:03 PM – 13 Feb 12

Christian Holland @CRHolland
@johnpyper excellent point.
1:05 PM – 13 Feb 12

John Pyper @johnpyper
@CRHolland Also are you saying that bad criticism has no consequences for an artist? or their career?
1:04 PM – 13 Feb 12

Christian Holland @CRHolland
@johnpyper Well, if it’s simply poorly argued/written criticism, the consequences (good/bad) will be less significant for an artist’s career
1:10 PM – 13 Feb 12

Christian Holland @CRHolland
@johnpyper I am, however, concerned if artists think they are the victims of poor writing/criticism. The readers are the bigger losers.
1:12 PM – 13 Feb 12

John Pyper @johnpyper
@CRHolland I think artists get so little public feedback that you hope they are at least fair or competently written, right?
1:17 PM – 13 Feb 12

Christian Holland @CRHolland
@johnpyper I suppose we can only keep trying to perfect the publishing model…
1:28 PM – 13 Feb 12

Christian Holland @CRHolland
.@johnpyperI think my biggest problem w/ltr is suggestion that people can’t create “groundbreaking work” due to some sort of oppression
1:17 PM – 13 Feb 12

John Pyper @johnpyper
@CRHolland what happens when an artist finally gets a solo show and the only review is from a hack? You seem smaller as a professional
1:18 PM – 13 Feb 12

Christian Holland @CRHolland
@johnpyper Thankfully, there are venues like this one where we can analyze both RPW and Smee’s words and come to our own conclusions.
1:29 PM – 13 Feb 12

John Pyper @johnpyper
@CRHolland I think people confuse critics with art history. No one remembers your review. and no historian will use it to define you.
1:19 PM – 13 Feb 12

Montserrat Gallery @montgallery
@quipped @S_Cardon @EvolvingCritic @johnpyper @CRHolland: we feel you, thanks for ur replies! now what is criticism meant to dO for the art?
1:31 PM – 13 Feb 12

Christian Holland @CRHolland
@montgallery Critics are voluntary media (mediums?) btwn art and audience. They provide understanding, context, validity to art for readers.
1:52 PM – 13 Feb 12

Christian Holland @CRHolland
@montgallery See Austin Chronicle which @salvocheque just pointed out.
1:53 PM – 13 Feb 12

Ricardo De Lima @rdelima
@CRHolland @johnpyper I feel long-term philosophical/aesthetic champions rather than the occasional detractor is a bigger career factor.
1:32 PM – 13 Feb 12

Montserrat Gallery @montgallery
@CRHolland agreed – always think that if this is the case, more museum/gallery educators should be writing for the papers.
1:57 PM – 13 Feb 12

Christian Holland @CRHolland
@montgallery Lol. Sounds like a conflict of interest. Although… maybe museums should hire unemployed critics to blog for them. :-)
2:00 PM – 13 Feb 12

Stephanie Cardon @S_Cardon
@crholland @montgallery Conflict of interest maybe, but it does mean all of that in-depth research and writing gets buried in catalogues.
2:40 PM – 13 Feb 12

Christian Holland @CRHolland
@S_Cardon Catalogs are, unfortunately, one of the few publishing models that can support in-depth research.
3:06 PM – 13 Feb 12

Christian Holland @CRHolland
@S_Cardon Moreover, I think newspaper journalists and museum/gallery educators dive to similar depths of research given their constituencies
3:09 PM – 13 Feb 12

Stephanie Cardon @S_Cardon
@crholland Are you comparing the general art-crowd to small children ;-)
3:16 PM – 13 Feb 12

Christian Holland @CRHolland
Whenever possible! RT @S_Cardon: Are you comparing the general art-crowd to small children ;-)
3:19 PM – 13 Feb 12

Christian Holland @CRHolland
@S_Cardon Curators, on the other hand, get to have all the research fun.
3:11 PM – 13 Feb 12

Christian Holland @CRHolland
Curators or critics? MT @rdelima I feel long-term philosophical/aesthetic champions rather than occasional detractor is bigger career factor
1:58 PM – 13 Feb 12

Ricardo De Lima @rdelima
@CRHolland those two intellectual breeds are more similar to me than they are different. I’ll take one of each and an order of fries.
2:11 PM – 13 Feb 12

John Pyper @johnpyper
@rdelima @CRHolland critic as tastemaker is dead if you ask me. curators still get that status sometimes.
2:13 PM – 13 Feb 12

Christian Holland @CRHolland
@johnpyper @rdelima Maybe this is why there are so many artists/critics/curators these days. And this business bit.ly/xlEgP2
2:16 PM – 13 Feb 12

Ricardo De Lima @rdelima
@johnpyper @CRHolland critic as tastemaker will largely absent until someone invents the pitchfork of the art world.
2:22 PM – 13 Feb 12

Christian Holland @CRHolland
@rdelima But teenagers don’t buy art. ;)
2:23 PM – 13 Feb 12

John Pyper @johnpyper
@rdelima @CRHolland artists and critics are too nerdy to find enough writers. Otherwise, we’d have been musicians.
2:33 PM – 13 Feb 12

salvador castillo @salvocheque
@CRHolland @montgallery @S_Cardon @evolvingcritic Got some more art crit discussion if interested wp.me/pgRi-nx
2:43 PM – 13 Feb 12

Can Twitter Save this House?

Copyright © Preservation Massachusetts. Used under the Creative Commons License.

UPDATE: This house has been demolished. We fought a good battle, unfortunately, we lost it. Read more here:

 

In the last few weeks and days, we’ve witnessed the power of Twitter and other social media outlets in spreading democracy to many parts of the world. I didn’t really believe much in Twitter because I didn’t understand how it worked, but now that I do, I believe that Twitter and those who use it have the power to influence people and make change happen.

How cool would it be to use Twitter to not only promote our cultural heritage, but to also save it. Could social media be the next most effective tool in preservation advocacy? Have you ever heard of the power of ten? That is, I get ten friends to give ten dollars towards a cause. Each of those ten friends then asks ten of their friends to give ten dollars towards the same cause. The cycle continues. If you subscribe to my blog could you forward this post to ten of your friends? Who knows, maybe we’ll find someone who is interested in preserving our cultural heritage by halting the demolition of this house:

The house is a 1780 Federal-style house in Dudley, Massachusetts and was home of Abiel “Priest” Williams, who was a minister in Dudley for 32 years. The house is historically and architecturally significant and was once considered “one of the most magnificent dwellings in Federalist Dudley” according to the Dudley Historical Commission. The current owners are willing to sell the house for $1 to anyone willing to relocate it, but if no one buys it, then it will fall to the wrecking ball and that would be really sad. Who do you know that may help save this house? The house was listed in 2010 as one of the Most Endangered Historic Resources in the state of Massachusetts by the statewide preservation organization; Preservation Massachusetts. That says a lot about this resource.

More information here and here and here.