Saturday, May 10, 2014


Lately I've been doing a lot of reading about 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 its Bohemian allure, almost all their lives. Both were miserable and unhappy drunks, which is neither here nor there, and Suzanne was Maurice's mother.  She was never quite sure who the father was. She died in 1938; he died in 1953 and they had what can only be described as 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’s or painter's creation work together to form an alliance. This pact moves you in a way--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, writes: "...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."
Do you know what this means?  I don’t, and I consider myself a relatively intelligent person.  I have no idea what the critic is trying to tell me, other than he or she is the proud owner of a dictionary and a thesaurus. Obviously the author of this paragraph 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 and simple 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 the memoires and biographies 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 deconstructing 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.
Maybe it's just that I don't like critics.


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