Tuesday, August 21, 2012


Lately I've been doing a lot of reading on Suzanne Valadon and Maurice Utrillo. Both were highly talented artists whose works are found in the best museums and beyond purchase by anyone but the wealthiest collectors. They lived in Montmartre, a Parisian neighborhood known for it's Bohemian allure, almost all their lives. Both were splendid drunks, and Suzanne was Maurice's mother. She died in 1938; he died in 1953. Maurice never found out who his father was, and if Suzanne knew (she was known for the assortment of lovers she maintained over the decades) she never let on, though it is possible that Maurice was sired by the painter Renoir. I suppose you could say the son and mother had a strange relationship, but that's not what I want to write about, since all relationships are strange in one way or another.
No, what I'm interested in is the critics' fashion of parsing an artist's work--and by artist I mean a writer, dancer, musician, sculptor, the whole gamut of people who cannot but be creative--into meaninglessness.
Look at a painting; read a book. What happens? Your imagination, and the writer or painter's creation work together to form an alliance. This pact moves you--you feel joy, sadness, revulsion on occasion, pity perhaps, even lust or envy. You and the artist form a symbiotic entente cordiale. He or she presents their work for your consideration, with the understanding that the artist is powerless over the audience. You, the audience, are willing to make a gift of time to the work. You read, you listen, you watch. In the end, both parties are affected by each other's willingness to devote a small period of life to pleasuring the other. An artist without an audience ceases to exist, and with no art there are no spectators.
The critics want to take this process over by dictating their views--which are assuredly more learned and educated than yours or mine ever will be. An author, critiquing Valadon's Nude Girl Sitting on a Cushion, wrote: "...Valadon's intense characterization is translated through the deliberate distortion of certain forms, the importance of which is enhanced by their unexpected size... Most of the time the children's alienation is expressed through reductive images whose effectiveness is enhanced through their simplicity."
I have no idea what this means. Obviously the critic and I are not looking at the same work. I see a small pencil and chalk drawing of a young dispirited nude. It's an evocative work, and I suppose I resent the critic's muddying of what is, all in all, a very basic piece of art.
For the past few years I've spent a lot of time reading autobiographies of some noted painters, and I have yet to find one describing his or her work in the same language as that of the critics. I wish those who write or broadcast opinions on the quality of things such as art, literary works, and society as a whole would do their own thing instead of parsing the works of others. That seems like a waste of time, a second-hand way of relating to creativity without adding any creativity of one's own. Or maybe it's just that I don't like critics, or for that matter anyone who tries to make something creative into something incomprehensible.

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