The Rapidian

Give Away The Stone (Pt.3)

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Link to Pt. 1

Link to Pt. 2

This is Pt. 3 of a three-part conversation about "walking away" after creating something, and the implications for audience and artist.

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They say we would go far, but they don't know how far we'll go
- Beach House, "10 Mile Stereo"

In Pt. 1 and Pt. 2 of "Give Away The Stone," I wrote about the benefits for the audience when the artist steps away from a finished piece or performance - when the artist truly allows the audience to interpret, and own it, for better or for worse.

I referred to this as a noble choice: once you're done creating something, you become a passive non-participant. I suggested Ritsu Katsumata provided a good example. I created a second category for Mr. Maynard James Keenan, who may be "more to the right" than even Ritsu, on this: I designate Mr. Keenan an active non-participant who provokes audience members into their own interpretations.

I should acknowledge at some point I'm an authority on nothing, I have neither education nor experience to justify my conclusions, and I'm making up these rules and categories, as I go along. Just wanted to get that out of the way.

In pt.1 of this ridiculously heady series, I submitted there might be value in the following: walk away once you're done creating something. The "prime-directive" of not interfering with an observer's interpretation. 

So, naturally, now I want to offer two exceptions to the rule.


It seems appropriate that an artist ought to re-enter an audience conversation about a technical question. For instance, "How many layers of gesso did you use, to prep your canvas?" Non-subjective questions and answers seem unlikely to prejudice interpretation; in fact, interpretation might be inhibited by missing or bad technical information.

I'll give an example of this from my own experience. I have written a few commentary pieces for The Rapidian that have been "aggregated" by the Grand Rapids Press, via MLive. I tried to see if I could do what Ritsu described in pt. 1 of this series: avoid re-entering the fold.  Let it go. I had my chance, when I wrote my piece. When I hit the "publish" button it was no longer my own. 
Some comments were positive, some were disparaging.  I was tempted to jump in again.  I didn't.  It was worth it.

There was one particular comment - on an aggregation of my piece about Mr. Rob Bliss' decision to charge $30 per go, at his water slide event - which distorted the annual membership fees charged by the organization I work for.  The membership fees had almost nothing to do with my piece, considering how badly the commenter distorted those fees.  Furthermore, this misinformation premised everything else he criticized me for. 

If I had re-entered the conversation and simply corrected this misinformation, it might have fallen into the exception of "technical information."  Stating the fees also would've had the fringe benefit of pulling the carpet out from under the commenter's premise, revealing her criticism as empty.

I resisted this temptation: I acknowledged to myself that my motives were personal.  I took her criticism personally.  And I would have been delighted to make her look foolish.  So I abstained.  Not easy.

I checked back on this thread (on a few days later.  Something interesting had happened while I was away: several other commenters had jumped in and actually corrected the misinformation in the critical comment.  Additionally, these other commenters praised the mission of the organization I work for, and said they felt our nominal memberships fees were a much better, longer-lasting use of essentially the same amount of money Mr. Bliss charged for a ride down his water slide.
Heartening to see living proof of the British expression "truth will out."


SECOND EXCEPTION TO THE RULE: Consume criticism and grow from it.

2. If you consider a criticism credible, use it for artistic growth.
ArtPeers FALL FESTIVAL 2010 begins today (I am part of ArtPeers). As many people know, we don't judge, award prizes, or impose qualification standards on registered artists. In short, anyone can register, and anyone can participate. FALL FESTIVAL features some of the most accomplished and talented artists living in Grand Rapids today. It also features some who are just beginners.
The risks (in not discriminating any entrants) are probably self-evident, if your goal were to curate, and apply some subjective standards - i.e. form a committee to discriminate good from bad. ArtPeers does not engage in this because, no matter how much Immanuel Kant you can quote me, there's a portion of curation that comes down to opinion. 
Art theorists would say interpretations of beauty possess two concepts of value: aesthetics and taste. Find me six people who can separate the two, and we'll consider curation in 2011. Taste varies according to class, cultural background, and education. ArtPeers FALL FESTIVAL takes place in a neighborhood with a starkly different mix of each, compared to galleries and exhibitions elsewhere.  We accept the trade-off as more than reasonable.
And ultimately, some artists are diamonds in the rough. Some are just... in the rough. And all points between.  If you choose to come out this weekend, and experience the FALL FESTIVAL exhibitions along Wealthy Street, you may see some pieces you don't care for.  Some pieces represent an artist at her earliest stages of growth, with many evolutions ahead of her. 
Including "amateur" artists in the overall programming of FALL FESTIVAL is not a weakness of the event: it's what makes it beautiful. I'd like to close the series with an example of the importance of this particular facet of FALL FESTIVAL.

Of all the good feedback that came from FALL FESTIVAL 2009, one artist in particular received a lot of criticism. She overheard people panning her artwork. She was aware of the fact the venue didn't care for it. This artist is a kind soul, and young. We didn't envy her: no matter how many times you reassure a person of the potential they have, or talk about the unnecessarily subjective values (taste) people place on art, it doesn't erase unfiltered criticisms. 
It occurred to us, at the time, that we might not see her back again, this year. Who'd come back for more of that?
In early August, we opened registration for artists, for ArtPeers FALL FESTIVAL 2010.  
On the first day of open registration, we not only saw her name come up... but we saw an "in progress" JPEG of the piece she was creating for FALL FESTIVAL 2010. Our jaws dropped.  We could not believe this was the same person.  Just... wow.
This piece represented a moment in time when this artist chose to consume the criticism. And grow. She resisted the temptation to argue with the critics, or to reject them as baseless. She took what she needed from that very difficult experience, and she began forward.
I can tell you without qualification that if we had curated ArtPeers FALL FESTIVAL 2009 she wouldn't have gotten in. Her pieces wouldn't have gone up. People wouldn't have criticized her or us for them. She wouldn't have had the opportunity to grow. She wouldn't be back this year. 
She wouldn't be a better artist. And we wouldn't have the privilege - the privilege - of seeing what she has done, and how far she has come.
And even a critic who could separate taste from aesthetics, upon seeing her artwork this year, would find both values in some abundance. 
This experience reaffirmed the benefits of open registration, for ArtPeers FALL FESTIVAL. But only because this artist had the fortitude to take a step forward - she chose to interface with observer feedback by growing from it, and this has made all the difference.
In conclusion
In this three part-series, I've said there may be usefulness to some artists, in choosing the option to "step away" after finishing a piece. I've given examples of how this may benefit the audience.  I've proposed two exceptions that seem reasonable to remaining involved in the audience's comments: to offer technical clarifications, or to consume the criticism and grow from it.

Without a doubt, your mileage may vary. Thanks for considering these ideas.

***Please check out FALL FESTIVAL this weekend, starting today - and I'd urge you to consider attending "Salmagundi," on Saturday, Sept. 11 (8 p.m.) at Wealthy Theatre.  Rarely does this city get the opportunity to experience such a collaberation of the most diverse, accomplished and exciting performing artists and musicians - I promise it would be worth your time.  You could walk the FALL FESTIVAL route during the day, get some food and coffee at local shops... doors open at Wealthy Theatre at 7 p.m. and we'll have a cash bar with Michigan beer on draught, plus wine and spirits.  Cheers.

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