Blog / 2008 / Everybody’s a Critic
March 19, 2008
I believe that I can learn from anyone and everyone about my work. If I listen, people will tell me what it is that I am saying. I can (and should!) know what I mean to say, but it’s only in listening to a viewer’s response to the work that I actually know what I conveyed with the work. And if art is about communication, knowing what I’m saying is invaluable.
“When I was in art school, they always told me to ask myself ‘so what?’ as I made a work. You might try that.”
An artist-curator told me this in late 2003 when I was applying to show in her space. I had sent her images from my Critics Critiqued series, including the one above. They were all paintings of local art dealers. At the time, I felt like she was responding to my portraits purely as portraits—as fluffy no-content art.
To begin with, I faulted her for not looking at the gesture of the work, what it meant for a young upstart artist to paint the portraits of what could be the artist’s gatekeepers and gods. Eventually, I came to realize that it was my responsibility to show the gesture more obviously within the composition itself, not hers to make the connection. Though I continued to work in straight portraiture for a few years, I ruminated about my miscommunication, and eventually produced Swollen in 2007.
“Are all those lines electricity running over their faces? Are they in pain?”
A rather tipsy viewer at my Snow Days opening in 2004 asked me these questions, looking at works like the one above. I was so surprised by the interpretation that I didn’t know what to say to him, but I did try to see my lines his way. In the works I created soon after this encounter, I toned down the so-called electricity and favored swathes of color more.
“It looks plaid!”
This was a compliment—I think! I took it as such and decided that this moment represented a culmination of sorts. I had worked the straight portrait until I was sure I could create a captivating likeness: it was time to make the changes I had been thinking about since 2003.
“Puberty IS like an explosion!”
A high school exchange student from Korea said this when she came to Swollen. She also asked me if I thought marriage was “stormy” referring to this diptych. I told her that I thought marriage could be rainy sometimes, but maybe life-giving as well. She confided in me that “stormy” described her parents” relationship!
This particular exchange was one of my happiest moments. When I came out with Swollen, I wasn’t certain that people would connect with or even understand my earth change metaphors. As it turned out, they did—even across cultures.