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Lesson Plans

Re: critiques

[ Thread ][ Subject ][ Author ][ Date ]
Terry Barrett (barrett.8)
Mon, 14 Apr 1997 13:36:08 -0500

Thank you very much for responding,
and for sending the essay.
I like it a lot.
I can certainly identify with it personally.
Finally, I really like it that you seem to have reached autonomy in your
art making decisions,
which I think is the ultimate goal.

Please consider posting this essay to the whole net.
It is very nicely written and enjoyable to read and very informative.
Thanks a lot!

>Dear Terry,
>I seem to recall that you posted a similar query not long ago. At the time
>I thought of sending you the following essay, but didn't. I'm still not
>sure its the kind of response you're looking for, but now I've decided to
>send it to you anyway. I hope you find it useful. If not then I hope you
>simply enjoy it. I learned a lot about myself by writing it. My artwork has
>since gone through numerous changes, and no doubt the critic's words have
>influenced some of the directions my efforts have taken me. The essay
>follows. Enjoy, if possible.
> I'd been after him for weeks to critique my photographs. I knew he had
>seen some of my pictures before, but we hadn't had an opportunity to talk
>about them. He's one of the State University's photography professors, and
>I thought his insight would be valuable. I pick up a lot from critiques.
>In my twenty years as a photographer, I've had scores of critiques from
>numerous learned people, but his reluctance to sit down with me and discuss
>my work was unusual. He was avoiding me and I was determined to find out
>why. I dogged him until I had him cornered. Seeking his candid opinion, I
>was taken aback by his response. He mumbled a few incomplete sentences
>about finding them uninteresting then asked, "What's beauty got to do
>with it?"
> At the time, I thought he was copping out. Now I believe that in
>classic teacher form, he posed an oblique question rather than bluntly
>announcing he thought the work was dull. Just pronouncing it tedious would
>have pissed me off, but I realise now false praise would have been worse.
> Considering I still have the "I wish I'd saids," it was a commendable
>question. I wish I'd said, "Beauty has so much to do with everything,"
>"Beauty has a validity all its own," "What doesn't have something to do
>with beauty?" or "It's taken a long time, but now I have confidence enough
>to make beautiful pictures of beautiful things."
> It's been more than a year I've been contemplating that question. I've
>been giving a lot of consideration to what has motivated my work over the
>years. I guess it's time to answer it.
> The portfolio he saw was a group of recent photographs of my hometown.
>They are about the landscape's beauty and my awe. Working with grand scale
>landscape and pictures of beautiful vista is new for me. I used to fear
>photographing beautiful things. I didn't trust my skills and intuition. I
>wondered, for instance, if a picture I took of a beautiful thing could be a
>beautiful picture or just a picture of a beautiful thing. It was safer to
>photograph plain or ugly stuff, setting my artistic tools to work to make
>it worthy of notice.
> I took this fear to extremes. When I showed my pictures of Europe,
>friends were aghast to see mostly close-up pictures of rusty Parisian
>fenders, Florentine foundation walls, and the cracked sidewalks of Nice.
>Not my circle of art friends - just those who wanted to see snap shots.
>There were some blurry landscapes taken from moving train windows with
>"PORTE DONNANT SUR LA VOIE" etched across them. I was apprehensive about
>making mementos resembling postcards - I was afraid they might not be art.
> While I lived in a house in Gloucester with an ocean view, I aimed my
>camera at the rotting bluefin tuna heads and dead seagulls that washed up
>on the beach. A rust flaked fire escape on the graffitied side of the Taste
>O' Sea factory became a crucifix. The chimney poking up from the Salem
>Bridal Shoppe building became a penis. "COURAGE," an inspirational carving
>on a boulder, became "RAGE" when I eclipsed the "COU" with a scowling
>friend. Classifieds, spread out on the bed with an overflowing ashtray
>and an empty coffee cup, became a proclamation on unemployment.
> I took pictures of my dog a lot - generally blurred. Once, though, I
>froze the action of his frisky roll in the snow, giving him the semblance
>of death.
> During this time I began to manipulate the photographic process by
>juxtaposing ironic and sometimes erotic images. I found portraits to be
>wonderfully entertaining this way, but the sitter seldom agreed.
> In addition, I made a series of pictures using what's called
>solarization. Turning the lights on while the pictures were developing,
>they became mostly a cloudy blue-black. If you looked closely you could
>make out a bird's eye view of lots of ant sized people and dingy old city
>buildings. I called these pictures the Neutron Bomb Series.
> I made numerous self-portraits, some with my face screaming through a
>plastic bag, and one superimposed on Farrah Fawcette. Another combined a
>crisp, sharp image of my face, superimposed onto my blurred head and
> Maybe he just needed to see my old stuff, along with the new work
>which comprised most of the portfolio. If he was bored with the beauty,
>perhaps he would have enjoyed the challenge of trying to see the beauty in
>my old pictures.
> I find beauty in the basic design elements inherent in the best of my
>old pictures. Handling composition and light became virtually intuitive
>while working with all that ugly stuff. They succeeded in artistic terms,
>but not many non-art people seemed interested in looking at them. I guess
>they are a bit esoteric, and I concede that some of them may be contrived,
>but they still excite me.
> Due to the prolific nature of the photographic process, a photographer
>tends to accumulate an abundant body of work. Photographers have to
>creatively cull their pictures for a portfolio. I usually show people my
>current work, along with any older ones that may go well with the new
>stuff. If I had known ahead of time that he was going to take exception to
>beauty, I would have selected some beautifully outrageous pictures for him.
> In spite of my choice of unsavory subjects, I've always enjoyed the
>natural beauty of my surroundings. I looked all the time, and was glad in
>what I saw. I would occasionally take timid shots of the ocean, trees, or
>babbling brooks. Some of those pictures are even good, but I didn't
>realize it at the time and so ignored them.
> Occasionally I rediscover one of those early landscapes and I print
>it - my printing skills have improved considerably. They are distinctly
>different from the more recent landscapes. To maintain control of design
>elements I frequently limited the elements, chosing a close point of
>view. Wider views are often complex and I found dealing with them
> Changes in my life brought me back to my hometown. Growing up here, I
>had always acknowledged that the northwest corner of Connecticut was a
>beautiful place, but moving back allowed me to see it with fresh eyes. I
>was captivated by the hills and forests bathed in capricious light. I was
>no longer jaded to the beauty of the grand vistas I had grown up with. I
>kept pulling over to gape at the ancient hardwood trees standing forlorn in
>the pastures. Timidly, I began to photograph them.
> The results gave me confidence. I continue to go back to these forlorn
>trees day after day, looking for the right light. I've been busy making
>photographs at different times of day, different seasons, different years.
>One series is of an old white oak in the middle of a pasture at Windfall
>Farm, another is of a huge American elm next to a tiny white clapboard
>house with a pond. I've been also working on the stand of silvery aspens
>that I can see from my dining room window.
> I discovered that I could employ the same principles of design I'd
>been using all along. I utilize dramatic light and planes of color and
>repetitive lines to isolate the essential and minimize the inessential. The
>forest covered hills and valleys extend as far as I can see, so there is
>no need for the old tight point of view. The dramatic landscapes and grand
>vistas I had feared now fascinate me.
> If this newer work is less cutting edge, it is at least more
>accessible. It simply is what it is, and it is not contrived. Rather than
>feeling compelled to make a beautiful statement about urban slime and rot
>or self-indulgence, my statement is now about the beauty of my
>neighborhood. Since the beauty of my neighborhood occupies my thoughts
>every day, why shouldn't I make pictures about that? I don't have to
>rationalize these pictures for him, but I do have to try answering his
>question for myself. So what does beauty have to do with it?
> The art school purist in me sometimes wonders if the pictures are too
>easy for the layman to like. I guess one of the things I thought art was
>supposed to do was to mystify people-to make them want to figure it all out
>for themselves. Mostly the layman doesn't bother. So if an important role
>of art is to communicate, whom am I supposed to communicate with? At home,
>away from the university and the galleries and the art types who seem to
>like being mystified, I am surrounded by real people who enjoy seeing the
>neighborhood in my work in ways they never would have taken the time to
>notice before.
> So you see, Mr. University Photography Professor, I really wish you
>liked the pictures, but I guess it's ok that you didn't. To answer your
>question, beauty has everything to do with it. And thanks for asking.
>Mark Alexander
>April 1994
>At 2:26 PM 4/11/97, Terry Barrett wrote:
>>Questions for ARTISTS about critiques.
>>May I please impose on you again? I'm seeking more of your ideas about
>>studio critiques. You may respond directly to me if you wish, or post
>>responses to the listserv which in turn will generate more responses. I
>>will compile and post the responses (anonymously) that I receive. Thank
>>As an artist (not as an art instructor), do you ever seek critiques of the
>>art that you make?
>>If not, why not?
>>If so, why? From whom? When?
>>What do you want to know from a critique of your work?
>>What is helpful to you?
>>What is not helpful to you?
>>Terry Barrett
>>Professor, Art Education
>>340 Hopkins Hall
>>Ohio State University
>>Columbus, OH 43210