Ken Johnson, Visiting Critic

Current student Aliene de Souza Howell (2011) shares her thoughts on a recent critic's visit to the Academy. The Academy's Career Development Workshop lunchtime lecture series, created through Elvin Freytes, Sharon Louden and Peter Drake, brings writers, critics, gallerists, alumni, artists and teachers to speak with students and alumni about various aspects of career development.

On the threshold of his new book, Are You Experienced?, New York Times Art Critic Ken Johnson recently delivered a Career Development Workshop and critiques at the Academy. I was impressed with the often autobiographical lecture he wrought with personal reflections questioning himself as a captive of capitalism, about pressure from directors and the "schadenfreude" of the New York art scene among artists and critics alike.

Johnson's book - Are You Experienced?
He spoke of the complete intersection of art and money that throttles the New York City art scene. This led him, a former Jungian Marxist, to turn inwardly and ask questions regarding the nature of his role as a critic. But with an MFA from SUNY Albany and a BA from Brown, Johnson knew the need for a voice from the perspective of a trained artist amidst the advent of theorists that had cropped up in the 80’s. He articulated with candor on the tug-o-war of desire to stand strong as an independent and for recognition as a competitive player among the biggest voices.

When reflecting on art that moved him, he perhaps tugged most at the hearts of the Academy audience. Johnson spoke of authenticity and wanting to see the self-discovery of the artist and the tangible qualities of the hand made. As a reviewer, he said  he believed in a complete act of art criticism that addressed history, sensory qualities and the concept behind the piece. Speaking like an artist on creating, Johnson said that when he’s writing he “loves that thing that happens when feelings turns into words, true to how I actually experienced something.”

Fleshing out ideas on concept, he brought up the dialectal nature between the metaphoric and the metonymic in art. In their extremes, they are irrelevant with the metaphoric losing touch with reality and the metonymic becoming didactic and obvious. Both still need each other to exist, though. His artistic preferences leaned toward the metaphoric. This may be the subject of his next book, "Ground Control to Major Tom".

Newest print! 36" square on mulberry paper.
Professionally, he offered this: do NOT cold call critics, for better or for worse the “consensual reality” between the galleries/museums and critics still holds true and is the established venue for picking artists to review. He pointed out that because studio visits and the selecting artists to show are the job of the gallerist, reviews tend to be directed not only at the artist but also to the institution who selected them.

From his critique of my work in my studio, I was inspired by our conversation on archetypes, symbology and the uncanny. He insightfully suggested pushing aspects of the subject matter in my linocuts.

And don’t forget to check out Ken Johnson’s recommended reading: Jacques Derrida’s Of Grammatology, and his most recent reviews on Joan Semmel, Julia Jaquette, and Anthony Caro.

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