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Lesson Plans

Re: Feldman's Art Criticism

[ Thread ][ Subject ][ Author ][ Date ]
Robert Alexander Fromme (rfromme)
Tue, 6 May 1997 00:36:18 -0500 (CDT)

At 01:06 PM 5/5/97 EDT, you wrote:
>Thank you for reference to E.B. Feldman's theories which continue to be some of
>the most lucid in the field of art education. Along with my appreciation for
>Dr. Feldman's ideas I am wondering if anyone has advocated more useful or valid
>approaches to art criticism since these theories of Feldman's were published.

Please keep in mind that my remarks were intended to concentrate on
Feldman's theories as requested by our colleague <ltmg> working
on lesson plans in Hong Kong. I did not intend to promote Feldman as a
thirty year, one-stop source for theory in art criticism.. The truth be
known, my earlier remarks, and these that follow, come from a 'hay seed'
from western Kansas, an old artist-potter and one-time, part-time, college
lecturer.. This old fellow now spends his days trying to survive a high
school art classroom while spending his nights trying to survive the
vertical learning curve of photoshop, painter, premier, video fusion,
illustrator and other techno-media tools. He has never had much use for art
criticism, having experienced the abusive end of others indulgences from
his earliest exhibitions of the sixties. His interest and limited
involvement in criticism has been a requirement of teaching responsibilities
rather then from a love for the (word) game.

In spite of my lot, I may well have as much right as the next person to
share an opinion on this subject. Suzanne Langer believed, "that a
philosopher of art should begin in the studio not in the gallery, auditorium
or library" (Langer, 1953 p.1ix) The artist is always the first to test
the power of the ideas and without any conception of the real issues and
working concepts of the artist we might never know the arts from the inside.
At any rate, my contempt for art criticism comes from years in the studio.
It is from the inside out. I must admit that I have never found a critic or
a philosopher who could speak clearly for me or about my work. What do they
know (or really care) about our particular lives and our work?. On the
other hand, when the criticism is of a general nature, I find their chatter
can be of value for teaching and learning.

As educators, we soon discover that numerous theories lurk in recent history
as potential sources for art and aesthetic curricula. Feldman had his
theory of critical skills and his belief in a social theory. He shared with
Stephen Pepper a theory of aesthetic pleasure. Pepper had his theory of
taste. We have seen other theories centered in artistic consciousness, in a
search for world views, in artistic personality, in connoisseurship, in
intuition, in anthropology, in visual literacy and in expression, etc.
Perhaps one will find a time and a place when the application of a
particular position looks fruitful for art learning..... but, 'one size
will not fit all'.

>As you have said the critical approach called "formalistic" assumes universal
>standards. ( "Wouldn't it be nice........" sang the Beachboys.)

No, Yes, or Maybe ....In the years that I moonlighted, teaching art
appreciation at a local junior college, one of our texts had been written by
Duane and Sarah Preble.. They mentioned that our Western world had three
theories of aesthetics ( subjective, objective and a balance of the two).
According to these authors:

"A subjective approach holds that judgment is personal, changeable, and
unchallengeable, and that all individual responses are equally valid."
(Preble, 1989 p.10)

"Objective theories are based on an assumption that there are unchanging
standards upon which absolute judgments can be made about all art,
regardless of time and place." (Preble, 1989)

"Between the extremes are relativist theories, which hold that value stems
from the interaction between the subjective response of the viewer and the
intrinsic qualities of the art object.
(Preble, 1989 )

>Another aspect
>of Dr. Feldman's writing which puzzles me is the relationship of "Style" to
>"Criticism": if the four styles are mimetic, formal, expressive, and fantastic,
>why should there be only 3 approaches used in criticism? Why should the critic
>not look at the style first and try to assess the degree to which aims have
>met, acknowledging overlap? For example, Freda Kahlo's work is expressive,
>fantastic, sometimes mimetic, and, as are all visual art works, an arrangement
>of formal elements.

I find that your questions are quite thoughtful. Perhaps Feldman is the only
person who could suggest an answer for you.

At this point, I find myself thinking about Ludwig Wittgenstein's use of the
example of the term 'game' to help us understand why art must be defined
'ostensively' ( ie. defined by citing a number of examples)

a.) We have only limited knowledge of the art (or of the games) from our past.
b.) We have a great variety of undertakings which are grouped under the
concept of art (or of games) in the present.
c.) We have no idea of the great variety of undertakings which will be
grouped under the concept of art (or of games) in the future.

So, we are destined to spend our lives adding to our understanding of art
an. Any definition of art phenomena must be of change. For a case in point,
where in his system of styles could Feldman place conceptual developments
from the 70s?

>Are you saying that emphasis should be on the subject's (the
>viewer's) point of view, and suggesting, as did Feldman, that the viewer assess
>these qualities of the work subjectively - the formal, expressive,

No, Feldman and numerous others seem to feel that way. From inside the
studio, looking out, this all seems quite unfair. Remember Suzanne
Langer's remarks about the importance of the artistic the scheme of things..
Perhaps Duchamp had the right idea when he said:

"...the creative act is not performed by the artist alone; the spectator
brings the work in contact with the external world by deciphering and
interpreting its inner qualifications and this adds his contribution to the
creative act." Marcel Duchamp ( Schuster, 1957, p. 143)

>Are you saying this or is Dr.Feldman saying this?

I was trying to help another art teacher apply Feldman's theories to lessons
as requested. The theories were Feldman's, the suggestions and personal
comments were my own. All of this should have been obvious.

>Can valid criticism be independent of the artist's aim?
>Of course, if we do not know the artist's aim,
>we may still be critical; and even in this naive state we might want to assess
>the mimetic qualities of a work or the work's ability to depict fantasy as well
>as ask ourselves to analyze the formal, expressive, and instrumental qualities

Sure. This all depends upon who is making the rules for criticism.

Do you agree upon the concepts which lurk behind the terms?
Are you trying to understand the artist, the age of the artist, or the
artist's work?
Are you trying to make someone else understand what you think is the meaning
of the artists work?
Are you trying to understand a body of similar or related work by looking at
the work of the single artist?
Are you trying to help the artist understand how you are responding to
her/his work?
Are you trying to help others understand what you feel is the significance
of a particular theory of criticism by applying the synthetic construct to
the work of a particular artist's work?
Are you the artist trying to work through the creative process ( first
insight, saturation, incubation, illumination, verification, and back to
saturation or incubation when verification points you out into another
direction or off to another try)?

Alas, A critic always has an agenda which colors their work and limits the
quality of the experience.

Bob Fromme

Langer, S. (1953), Feeling and Form, New York, :Charles Scribner's Sons.
Preble, Duane and Sarah, (1989), Art Forms,New York, HarperCollins
Carroll Quigley, "Needed: A Revolution in Thinking?" in The Journal of the
National Education Association 57, no. 5 (May 1968),9.
Jean Schuster, " Marcel Duchamp, vite," in le surrealisme (Paris), no. 2
(Spring 1957): 143