One of the
most important parts of my journey as an artist and sculptor at NYAA has been
critique, or “crit” as we call it.
Critique Signup Sheet
take place with a visiting artist or critic, a full time faculty member, or a
third year fellow. This week I had crit with Guggenheim fellow Ed Smith. Smith
worked with one of my primary influences, William Tucker, a modernist British
sculptor and modern art scholar. This was the best critique I have had in my
life. Ed Smith gave me great pointers and finishing techniques for my thesis
idea, as well as for my maquette and sketchbook method.
This year I
have had crits with visiting artists Anneliis Beadnell, Deborah Soloman,
Richard Dupont, Steven Assael, Beth Cavener, and Audrey Flack. I have also had
crit with most of the faculty, and the third year fellows. All of the crits
have helped me to gain valuable insight into my own work.
students get excited to meet and receive feedback from experts in their fields.
Wednesday is critique signup day, and every Wednesday at 12:30 a long line of
students forms down the fourth floor hallway, as students gather and wait to
put their names down for critique the following week.
On March 25th
and April 1st, all first years students met with acclaimed visiting
artist Eric Fischl for group critique. Group critiques allow us to voice our
thoughts and critique one another in an academic approach.
Lopez with Richard Dupont
benefit I have gained from my experience with critiques is the ability to
describe the method and philosophy of my work. Critiques are essential to an
artist’s development, even if the artist may not fully agree with them. It is helpful
to have a second set of eyes read our work, and is a treat to learn from
esteemed artists and critics here at NYAA. ###
See more of Lopez's work on April 13th at the Tribeca Ball, where 100 Academy artists open their studios for a night of art, enchantment and a bit of magic. And be sure to save the date for MFA open studios on April 24th from 6-9pm.
This semester’s Student Curatorialshow "Monumental Marks" and "En Las Periferias/In the Peripheries" were composed of two concepts united by the sensitive trace of artists and moments of quietude. It featured a large
drawing exhibition and an exhibition based on human indifference and intimacy.
Marks,” located on the third floor, allowed its viewers to experience the various languages of mark and line within the
drawing medium. Hatched lines of graphite accompany the velvety texture of blended
charcoal line the wall. The intention of "Monumental
Marks" was to demonstrate the beauty of the mark, while presenting drawing
as a viable art form in which to create finished works. Both traditional and
contemporary this show celebrated the grandeur side of drawing.
Periferias/In the Peripheries” was deliberately located on the second and fourth
floor of the New York Academy, framing the drawings, to suggest another kind of periphery,
that of human indifference. The art in this exhibit took many unique forms ranging from a pensive foggy landscape to a tender broken portrait. For this exhibition
we wanted to let the art works speak to the viewer. The work served as theater plays,
finding in them the “seed” of the script, and letting them tell us of the inner
conflict of the character and the need of a softer gaze.
The Student Curatorial Committee hoped this short exhibition delighted the
Academy community and accompanied them on these last cold days before the warmth of Spring.
When I met with
Ken Johnson, he had just been to see Jeff Koons’ “Jim Beam – J.B. Turner Engine,” and six individual train cars (toy sized, silvery stainless steel, filled with Jim Beam Bourbon), at Craig F Starr gallery. He placed the
catalogue on the table. I asked him how he chooses
what to write about.
“Why am I writing about Jeff Koons? I actually
think Jeff Koons has been a great artist... This work was from ‘86, and I’m
very interested in the eighties – it was a really explosive time in the art
world. I may be interested in a show for its historical significance, or
because it’s an artist who’s making waves now– I write for lots of different
reasons.” Johnson has
written for the New York Times for 17 years. (You can read his March 5th
review of the Koons show here.) He is also the author of "Are You Experienced?
How Psychedelic Consciousness Transformed Modern Art.” Unlike many art
critics, he also comes from a studio art background. In mid-February,
Johnson conducted critiques for Academy second-years. I found his critiques
insightful, accessible, and entertaining. As an artist and a writer, I was
curious to hear about his background, and his thoughts on art and writing, so I
tracked him down to ask.
Below is our conversation:
you tell me about your studio background?
Well, I majored in studio art at Brown, but
I only took three studio courses and a bunch of art history courses. Really I did
more English courses. I wanted to become a novelist first, but I found writing
fiction almost impossible. I was much better at writing expository, analytic
stuff. I didn’t really know what I was going to do when I graduated, so I
applied for an MA in painting at SUNY Albany, and then did that.
Gladys Nilsson of the Chicago Imagists, "Turnabout Walk"
kind of work were you interested in in grad school?
In grad school, I discovered the Chicago
imagists, these artists associated with the Hairy Who. This art was
kinda funky pop – more fantasy, surrealism than New York Pop… And I’ve always
been interested in outsider art.
grad school a positive experience for you?
Yes. What happens in grad school, if you’re
lucky, is you start out doing one thing and you end up doing something that you
never imagined, or were capable of doing. Chances are, you start out with some
fixed ideas that you’re better off without. But you have to fail trying to do
them. You have to be broken down, and then at some point you go “oh, that’s what art is!” – at least that’s
how I experienced it.
did you transition from a Masters in painting to criticism?
After grad school, I got a job working in as
an assistant art conservator. In that job, I learned all this woodworking and
how to do things with materials. I definitely learned more technical stuff from
that job than I did from grad school. I had a basement studio, and at night I
was making wood sculpture. I was working all day at a conservation lab sanding
glue off the back of an old canvas, and then I’d come home and be sanding this
thing I was making too, and at a certain point I felt like I had such a strong
desire to READ, and I had to just stop. Also, after a few years of that work,
my immune system was injured by all the solvents and chemicals. Then some
friends started an art criticism-reading group, and I began writing things in
response to pieces we were reading, and I really got into it. And then I
started writing reviews for the Albany Times Union. And then one thing just led
you keep painting when
Narcissus, by Ken Johnson
you started writing?
Once I started writing I pretty much
stopped making art. I was married and had two little kids, so I just couldn’t
really think about doing anything else. As a freelancer I just didn’t have
regular time to do it.
you ever wish you’d seriously pursued art instead of writing?
I could’ve been an artist, but I wasn’t one
of those people that was singled out as something special. So I feel pretty
good about being a critic. Sometimes the grind of weekly deadlines makes me
feel like “let me out of this” – but it’s always something different and I’m
always learning, and hopefully evolving in my own consciousness of what writing
and writing about art is.I really like
the process of looking and trying to figure out why I’m having a response to a
given object. Why am I thrilled, why am I disappointed?
you make your own art now?
In the past ten years or so, my life has
been more settled, and I’ve found myself with time in the evenings, so I
started painting again. I make these small, acrylic, geometric op-art
paintings... they’re about perception, really. (show photos?) I work in my lap
though, I don’t have a studio –I sit and paint with a Netflix movie on so I
don’t get too bored. And a couple years ago I started producing this series of
cartoons based on these two characters – ball and cone –I’ve made hundreds of these
pen and ink drawings. They’re sort of philosophical, I’m kind of a philosophy junkie.
do you define successful a work of art?
The intention of any piece of art is to
make the viewer feel something. If everything in the work is working together
to make me feel a certain way – that’s when it’s really good art. I don’t think
I’ve ever really said it like that before – a unified reaction.
do you think has led to your success as an art critic?
Two things. First, I can write clearly. If
you can write in an accessible, grammatically correct, interesting, and even
entertaining way, that goes a long way. Secondly, I don’t have any ideological
axe to grind. I’m willing to look at different sorts of things and judge them
on a case by case basis, rather than advocating for one way of doing or
thinking about things.
much does one need to know about art history or contemporary art to write about
I’ve taught criticism before and I always
say anybody can write art criticism. The whole thing of it is, how do you take
your felt response to what you’re seeing and put that into words? It’s not
about what you know, it’s about what you feel. Over time, you accumulate a lot
of knowledge, but I didn’t have any training to do this. I don’t think knowing
a lot about art history is a primary prerequisite for a critic starting out.
But then of course at some point, you gotta know what you’re talking about.
do you think your background in studio art has shaped you as a critic? Do you
ever feel like you have a better understanding of art than other critics
because you’ve actually made things?
I don’t know what it would be like to be a
critic and not know how things are
made. Having made art, you know it with your body. You’ve made it with your
hands, you know what it smells like and feels like, you know what the
consistency of paint is… I can identify with or empathize with people who are
making stuff. Sometimes I’ll see how something is made and think, “why would
anybody make something that way?” Not that it’s bad or wrong, it’s just not the
way I would do it. And sometimes I’ll see something I like and one of the things
I like about it is that it excites my own creative juices, and I think “oh, I
wanna make something like that.”
you think you’re more of a visual or verbal person? Do you think much about
This is something I’ve puzzled over since I
was in college, because I wanted to do both… When I was a freshman, I went to a
friend’s final studio presentation. He had these glass slides, with these
transparencies, and projected them as a series of images with music, and I
remember it just blew my mind. Afterward, I would lie in bed going to sleep
visualizing these slides, thinking, “well what would I do if I could do that?”
It was just so visually exciting to me. But making art for me is a much more
narrow and focused activity. I think ultimately I have more of a discursive
mind, so making art will always be secondary for me. For me the process of
interpretation is really exciting. I couldn’t give up being a writer.
much do you think your criticism has an impact on the art world and art market?
Some critics can really affect the market. I'm not sure that I do or how I
fit in. I think the people at the Times like what I do
because they think I’m a good writer. And if I review a show more people will
go see it. But I don’t think I have much influence in the market. I have no
interest in effecting the market, and the things I like and am interested in
are often not the market meters – I don’t worry about it. It’s a pretty good
gig to be able to just write about whatever I want and be free to say what I
think about it.
do you deal with the backlash you sometimes get for your writing?
Well, it makes a lot of noise but it’s only
happened 3 times in 17 years. Well, there have probably been lots of things I’ve
written that have angered people, but it’s because of Facebook that they blow
up and become widely known. People who haven’t read anything by me will read
this one thing and they go “AH! He’s sexist and racist.” Not all people are
very good readers, and a lot of people are not very good at ambiguity or
subtlety – I’ll get quoted out of context, or they’ll quote half a sentence. You
know, the narcissist in me is like “this is great, everybody’s talking about
me!” and since I don’t think I was wrong, I don’t really mind. Being an art critic
is an ongoing performance in the paper every week.