14 February 2008

Criticism of Art

Is this a good thing? I think it is. That is why I agree, in principle, with the article "Art Without a Audience".

Everyone is a critic in some form or another. Everyone who looks at art, whatever its form, assesses it is some way. It might be as simple as, "I like it", or "that's ugly, who would hang such a thing on their wall". Others might be more technical in their approach and analyze the art in terms of form and/or color and/or composition and/or social impact and so on.

If one wants to improve as an artist, one has to be critical of one's own works. Additionally, one must also solicit the critiques of others. It might sting a little to hear that your work isn't as good as you think it is in the eyes of someone else, but it won't kill you. Even if they absolutely hate your creation, it's just their opinion. You might love the work no matter what anyone else thinks of it. It doesn't help anyone improve as an artist to always hear "great", "excellent", "outstanding", etc. when they post an image. Likewise, to always hear negative comments doesn't help either. More often than not, IMO, it is helpful to point out what is good about an image, as well as what is not so good about it. Even better are suggestions on how to improve the image.

Where I differ from the article, is when the author says,

"Some of the criticism that Orbit Trap has received, and that I have personally received, has lead me to think that many people in the fractal world misunderstand the function of criticism that Orbit Trap is performing."


"Criticism is simply commentary. The word "criticism" has acquired a negative connotation in everyday speech, but I'm using the word in it's traditional, neutral way, which simply implies any kind of feedback or discussion regardless of whether it's pleasant or unpleasant. Criticism is merely talking "about" something."

Most of the criticism that I've offered to Orbit Trap and many of the posts is that the criticism that Orbit Trap is offering goes far beyond being critical of art. The authors have been critical of the actions of people. This isn't critiquing art, this is attacking people personally. Sometimes, this is justified if the actions of people are somehow wrong. However, this is not generally the case with those who are the targets of Orbit Trap's criticisms. I show this in great detail in my post about the Fractal Universe Calendar. Virtually all of the criticisms of this publishing venture are either personal in nature and unfounded, or just critical opinions which are not indicative of anything wrong.

It's equally unseemly to set one's self up as a critic, and then complain about how one is treated when others are critical of your critiques. If you are going to be critical of others, then at least be accepting of comments when others are critical of your critiques. If you are going to dish it out, make sure you can take it as well.

The criticism offered by Orbit Trap has gone way past the point of being "simply commentary". It became relentless and personal. Saying that the posts were merely "talking about something" is a cop-out and trys to ignore the responsibility that the authors have for their words, opinions, and attacks. In the same way, the comments received to the Orbit Trap posts were "simply commentary". But, if you have been following any of the comments, you can see how the authors reacted to others "talking about something". They didn't react very favorably, yet they expect others to accept their "commentary". More double standard? More hypocrisy?

The other main subject of criticism is the Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Competition. The lines are less clear here. Some of the objections are reasonable, but most of them are not. If you read the many posts at Orbit Trap about this event, you will see repeated comments like,
"It's one thing to suck up 40% of the wall space for an exhibition"

"This year, the BMFAC “rules” allowed the judges to claim 40% of the exhibition space. "

"The judges stake out their 40% of the wall space first"

"No, BMFAC judges insist upon the resume-packing"
These aren't critiques, these are an attacks. In fact, the entire post, "Damien, Inc." is nothing more than one lengthy ad hominem attack. These types of posts aren't positive in general, and aren't positive to the larger community of fractal art. The logical question is, why did the author post it? I don't know. I have theories, but I don't have the ability to read the mind of the author.

I agree that there is a lack of criticism in the fractal art community, and probably the digital art community as well. But, I think the Orbit Trap authors need to quit complaining about how they are treated and actually engage in artistic critiques. One does not have to be attacking or destructive in their approach to be critical; one can actually be constructive and give positive examples or alternatives to contrast your critique. One does not have to be personal and assign motives to people in their assessment of some event. One can object to some event and/or how it is run without claiming the entire event and those associated with it are "unprofessional" and the event should cease to exist because it isn't run according to some strict set of "rules". One should know where to draw the line when offering honest opinions about something, and repeatedly engaging in a destructive vendetta.