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Technique is not enough: Where Jerry Saltz and I agree on how to experience art

Walking into Critical Discourse, I didn't think I would agree with art critics but after listening, I found some common ground.
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The "Earth Giant" relaxes by the Grand River

The "Earth Giant" relaxes by the Grand River /D Charvat

I'll start off by admitting that I know next to nothing about art. Sure, I took an art history class a few years ago but I remember next to nothing from that. So when I look at a piece of art, I naturally will look at it differently than what an artist or art critic would see. On September 30, I went to the annual Critical Discourse which included a panel of three people- Adonna Khare, Tamara Fox and Jerry Saltz- who know much more about art than I do.

The thing about art is this: shouldn't it speak to you whether or not you have studied it? Jerry Saltz, senior art critic for the New York Times, describes this phenomenon perfectly.

"People understand movies, TV, books, sports, money. People understand Kim Kardashian," says Saltz. "For some reason, art is something that people subject something weird to-they say they want to understand it. But nobody says I want to understand music-you experience it."

If art is an experience, then I'm sure everyone experiences it differently. I might connect to a piece because it reminds me of my childhood and an artist may connect to a piece due to the process or the lines created. There's no problem with either view. Saltz explains how he believes the public finds meaning and how he finds meaning.

"I think when something is made up of many small parts, they [the public] find meaning. And that meaning is that they worked hard, that it took a million hours, that it wasn't easy and that it looks familiar. I'm not against any of these things," says Saltz. In contrast to the public's meaning, Saltz says he "always think things get meaning when there's a glitch or gaps in meaning."

For me, what is meaningful is that I enjoy a piece. Saltz agrees with this belief that art is for enjoyment and we simply enjoy different aspects of a piece.

"I believe in a kind of two state system. You have pointy headed intellectuals like me, so I like certain things and people like certain kinds of things. We're all going to have to learn how to get along," he says. He may enjoy a beatifully broken piece about an unconventional idea and the general public may enjoy something completely different. Saltz inferred that it's important that we get along, even though we disagree. I would say the important thing is that neither is wrong.

I enjoyed the "Earth Giant" in particular. This features a giant lounging near the Grand Rapids Public Museum holding a fishing rod. This stuck out to me not because of the technique-that's not what I notice. For me, humor is more valuable than technique. This piece had so much character. Although it was not a hit with artists in the audience, I enjoyed it immensely. It was humorous, laid back and makes you feel good.

So what irks me slightly is when the audience responds to a simple question like what they think of the top ten. I heard answers such as "no variety," "all obvious" and "annoying" as if these pieces do not deserve the credit of making top ten.

This makes me think of what makes ArtPrize so special. It's not the fact that every piece is the most brilliant or impressive-that's what they have art museums for. What makes ArtPrize special is that it shows in numbers which pieces created an experience, which to many has little to do with technique. The pieces chosen represent what the majority of voters appreciate. 

These pieces deserve to be in the top ten. Some artists may look at the top ten and not appreciate them, but it is the experience it gives to the crowd that must be appreciated-and boy is ArtPrize an experience! Now that there is a public vote and a juried vote, it makes it a little easier for these two perspectives to exist.

"I know there are two different art worlds," as Saltz says, "but can't we get along here people?"

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