Monthly Archives: July 2016

Throwback Thursday – KCAC Forum Sept/Oct 1988

KCAC Forum Magazine Sept/Oct 1988

Part two of last weeks article “Two art Critics Assess Their Jobs.” Now we take Don Hoffmann’s opinion of art critics in Kansas City to compare to last week’s by Peter vonZiegesar.

Art Requires More Challenges Than KC Offers
by Donald Hoffmann

If a mature artist wants to live in Kansas City and knows exactly what he wants to do and knows himself, that’s fine.  But if I were an artist, and were young, I don’t think I’d want to be here because there’s just not enough bouncing off the walls to get people started; and i think we shouldn’t be overly protective of Kansas City in those terms.

A fellow said to me yesterday, he liked living in a small town in Kansas, but he thought, in a way, it would not be a good place to grow up in.  There’s nothing there that can tell you or give you the slightest clue as to what you might want to do with your life.  That’s the sort of thing that bothers me about Kansas City – it’s a very complacent place.  You can be an artist or not be an artist; it doesn’t make very much difference because people are just kind of poking along making ends meet. They go to art shows, and they make art; you don’t get the feeling that people are crucially intent on what they’re doing.  They’re more interested in their quality of life, and they define quality of life in these parts as having a detached house, two or three cars, lots of grass, membership in a club, maybe, and eating well.  Those aren’t the things that have anything to do with art.

Audience: What is the attitude of your superiors at The Star toward the arts? What kind of atmosphere exists? Do you get support in writing whatever articles you want or are they often cut?

Well I don’t want to talk out of school, but I feel lucky to have a job there at all. As far as I can tell, the only reason there is a staff member at the paper writing about art and architecture is that the Nelson Gallery exists here and the Kansas City Art Institute exists here. If those two institutions weren’t here, I can’t conceive of that newspaper having a staff person with a full salary and benefits to write about the shows in town.  it’s the fact that those are major institutions to the city, historically. Art coverage just kind of grew gradually.

The problem with free-lance reviewers, and I’d be the first to welcome this, is that my editors feel they would rather have somebody who can write the way they want things written and who knows newspaper work, rather than having somebody from the community who might have a personal interest in the arts, I mean a real axe to grind. You can’t find very many people in this town to write about art – they’re either making art or working at one of the institutions, so there’s a built-in conflict of interest right off the bat. We did have a woman write our reviews about eight or nine years ago.  There is a terrible amount of time taken up in editing somebody who isn’t experienced in newspaper writing, which has to be fast, has to be reasonably clear and accurate. I can see their point of view – they can’t have an editor spending two or three days getting in shape a little bitty story about a painting exhibition or something.

At the paper, we’re constantly barraged by people who think whatever they’re involved in is the most important thing in the world, whether it’s a boy scout jamboree, serial murderers, or saving animals who are mistreated.  I probably get about 15 letters a day, none of which are worth reading.

I want to get back to this business about humiliation: I don’t feel humiliated when somebody gripes at me.  What I do dislike about working in this town is that if I get two to three letters a year about art – I mean the subject of art or painting, or whatever – that are even intelligent, that’s almost a record.  What I do hear is personal backfire.  This town is so small  minded that if you give anybody a bad review, the second-or-third-hand comments come back, “Well he’s got it in for her, or he doesn’t like him.” I don’t give a damn about the people involved.  I’m not writing about the people; I’m writing about their art.  If their art is bad, I’m not going to praise it to make them feel good or try to build their career; and this town has a lot of growing up to do as far as getting beyond that state of affairs where negative reviews in the newspaper are assumed to be planted by someone.  That’s all the feedback I get in this town. It’s very disheartening.

I have a friend who was teaching history at Ames, Iowa, for a number of years, and the second-to-last time I ran into him I said, “How are you getting along?” He said, “I’m fine, but you know it’s hard to stay awake when everyone else is asleep.” He now has a job in Chicago, and he’s a new man; it’s like somebody who’s gotten out of a bad love affair – he’s completely different. He’s happy to commute five miles to work in Chicago because he’s getting the kind of stimulation he did not get in Ames.  And I can remember reading an essay about C. Northcote Parkinson, who said, “I suppose I could have been a historian in my native town of York, England, but I wouldn’t have been a very good one because there are no other historians there.” You’re not going to be good if you’re not in competition with the best there is, and that’s what I was trying to say.

So if you had it to do over, you wouldn’t be here; you would not live in this town.

Sure wouldn’t.

And you cannot in conscience recommend that anyone else come here.

No, no, I didn’t say that. There’s a number of top-notch free-lance illustrators, people such as Mark English, in this area, who can live anywhere in the world because their work is sent through the mail and they don’t have to have exhibitions.  They don’t have to have a direct confrontation with critics and publishers or anything.  That’s fine.  Mark chooses to live here. You know, someone like Barsotti who’s doing cartoons for The New Yorker, he doesn’t have to live in New York to do those cartoons; but I would think if Barsotti were interested in really getting the best out of himself, getting with what’s going on now – not in the sense of being trendy, but expressing 1988, not some kind of landscape tradition that came from i don’t know where – then he would find it very hard to be inspired here.  There may be poeple who are totally self-inspired, but I doubt it.

I’m not a salesman. There’s a whole structure of arts organizations like this one; there are dealers, people who write criticism – but it really isn’t criticism, it’s boosterism.  New York journals are full of that kind of stuff. There’s a whole structure that’s set up there, and that stuff I find loathsome.  i think the critic’s only obligation is to be honest and try to see things for what they are.  Once he starts pushing art, he might as well be selling shoes, or dresses or something else. That’s not criticism, that’s, well, there’s a name for it, but it’s not even a polite name… so I don’t feel guilty about not boosting artists.  If i inwardly feel excited about writing about some art, then I think that’s right.  I don’t go around boosting something that’s mediocre, because there is no purpose in mediocre art. If it’s mediocre, you don’t need it.

Was Georgia O’Keefe mediocre?

I think she was possibly worse than mediocre.

brittany vega

KC Artist Lifestyle is back at it with Kansas City artist Brittany Vega (@_brittanyvega_). Brittany is a Florida native, that received her Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Memphis College of Art in Memphis, Tennessee. After graduation, she made her way to Kansas City and has settled here to join in the burgeoning arts scene.

Here are a few words from Brittany about her work and her process:

“Through long hikes, evenings by the river, and even island camping, I’ve compulsively collected anything from dead animals to odd rocks. Micro-details attract me to these objects: the jagged edge of something broken, the deformity of a bone, or a bold line, marking time in a stone, visibly layered as alternating minerals.

Referring to these natural objects, I first create drawings on yupo paper. Wanting to accentuate a more specific detail, I slowly pour an ink wash onto the paper’s surface to mark that moment. Yupo paper is tree-free and made without pulp. Its smooth surface lacks the fibrous texture of most papers, and being waterproof it forces the ink wash to puddle up. As each puddle air-dries the ink is left imprinted. Patterns much like a desert landscape are left behind, showing the streaks of evaporation.

Together, these drawn images and receding washes play back and forth as the ink dries. The transparent stains become a ground unevenly exposing and hiding segments of the drawings. After days of drying the work has unearthed itself in bits and pieces.”

Her process sounds spectacular and we are most definitely looking forward to seeing what a week in the life of Brittany (@_brittanyvega_) is all about, but since we just can’t wait, here are a few images of Brittany’s work and past Instagram images…

Vega_Brittany_Image 3_AL_7_16     Vega_Brittany_Image 1_AL_7_16     Vega_Brittany_Image 4_AL_7_16

Be sure to follow Brittany on her KCAC Instagram journey Thursday, July 28th – Tuesday, August 2nd!

If you missed any of our previous Artist Lifestyle Artists you can always catch up on the KCAC Instagram (@kcartistscoalition) to see what has been happening or search social media with the hashtags: #kcartistlifestyle #kcacartistlifestyle


Throwback Thursday – KCAC Forum Sept/Oct 1988

KCAC Forum Magazine Sept/Oct 1988

Part one of “Two Critics Assess Their Jobs,” side by side articles by art critics Peter vonZiegesar and Donald Hoffmann. Hang tight for Hoffmann’s views next Thursday.

Criticism Requires Work and Courage to Be Good
by Peter vonZiegesar

Artists are not to be blamed for their traditional distrust of written criticism; too often in the newspapers, the critic stands in judgment merely to give a consumer report on the shows in town.  His thumbs up or thumbs down summarizes, in one obscene gesture, work that may have taken months or years of hard toil.  Artists often see reviewers as shallow, removed, arbitrary, uninformed, frivolous, or downright mistaken. This impression is complicated by hacks, who think their main task is to invent clever bon mots in which to blow away the pretensions of the artist at hand.

when one industry confronts another, as newspapers do when they review the latest productions of Hollywood, then the match is somewhat equal; but when a newspaper throws its weight behind a shallow critique that in a few words distorts, trivializes and dismisses an individuals fondest dreams, however trivial they actually are, that contest seems patently unfair.

There are other reasons artists distrust the written word.  Society has armed artists with the worn-out motto, “A picture is worth a thousand words,” meaning: “if I could have said it with words, I wouldn’t have made it at all.” This credo, often accompanied with a hitch of paint-splashed jeans and a John Wayne twisting of the lips, reflects the age-old belief that the artist, wrestling with his or her medium, is dealing with things ineffable, if not unspeakable.

The modern proscription against artists revealing too much about their inspirational process now rivals the ancient Hebrew proscription against speaking the name of God.  It results in all kinds of ridiculous beatings around the bush and discussions of “process,” which usually boil down to trading the names of hardware stores and art supply houses.

I once sat in on a backstage chitchat with a well-known performance artist; though the show had been replete with exotic imagery – breathing of fire, projection of childhood movies, enacted matricides and paint poured from the ceiling into a cup held in an outstretched hand – the artist limited his discussion to the clockwork mechanism by which he had caused the actor to slide across the stage.  Obviously, symbolism and content where out, “process” was in. What a magician might call misdirection and patter, a psychiatrist would call blockage.

Often artists have another, more poignant reason to distrust the written word.  In an educational system too heavily weighed toward reading and writing, a student who’s talents lie elsewhere is often shunted into slow classes, told he is stupid, dyslexic, retarded or otherwise abused or ignored.  In visual or tactile skills, artists find liberation from the confusion and cruelty of the written word.

However, artists have reasons to love critics.  Criticism and the written word have a distinguished and perhaps indispensable relationship to the visual arts.  In fact, each artist is a critic him- or herself.  Every artist is in the course of development has viewed, chosen, rejected, or partially absorbed thousands, if not millions of pieces of others’ work.  The mental process of making one’s artwork uses complex discernment processes of which the artist may be only dimly aware.  This flicker of cognition, often mislabeled as “instinct” after it has been internalized, is a link between artist and critic, for the process is very similar to what a critic does when analyzing a piece for review.

Many of the world’s great artists have expressed themselves in eloquent terms, just as many have been content, or malcontent, to forever let others speak for them (in which case they have nothing to kick about if they don’t like what’s said). To get back to my point, though, as a writer, a critic’s first task is to say what he or she thinks. This involves not just first thoughts or impressions, but thoughts that have come long after – after readings, after investigations and comparisons, after hours spent in contemplation of the work in question.  This alone argues for the value of contentious piece of criticism: the writer has spent more time with a piece of art than anyone other than perhaps the maker himself.

Recording one’s impressions at this point can require courage, since the writer will very soon find himself snaking down unexplored pathways.  In Speak, Memory, Vladimir Nabokov confesses that in the hackneyed phrase “Memory’s sting,” used in his first boyish verses, he “…had really visualized as the ovipositor of an ichneumon fly straddling a cabbage caterpillar, but had not dared say so…” Specifics are all-important, that is why the criticism of Nabokov often does sting, while that of most critics rubs like a gray wet rag at a small-town coffee counter.  The critic must not only check his own emotional response but must do his best to discover the origins and intentions of the artist.

This brings me to my only major theoretical contribution to the science of art criticism: the discovery that all works of art – no matter what format in which they are first molded, whether sculptural or square, conceptual or steel – are hourglass-shaped.  One must accept this simplification to understand criticism, as one accepts that universe is curved in order to grasp Einstein’s theory of relativity.

In this conceptual model, the narrow midsection of the hourglass, the part through which the sand flows, is the work itself as it hangs on the gallery wall.  The top funnel, containing the reservoir, represents the widening perspective of the artist, going back in reverse time to the day of his or her birth and incorporating all of the artist’s (generally hidden) training, knowledge, experience and natural talents, disparate impressions, theories and applications.

Conversely, the bottom bell of the hourglass represents the ever-widening effect that each work of art will have on its viewers, expanding in implication as it alters their perceptions.  Essentially, each viewer fills the bottom of the hourglass himself; but a work of art, such as Manet’s “Olympia,” or Duchamp’s urinal, can also have an expanding influence on the art world in general. It can touch on the way be all agree on facets of life and art.

The critic’s job, then, is not only to put his eye to the narrow opening of the hourglass – think of it as a peep hole – to experience that itself, but to discover and make plain in clear English as much of the upper and lower cones as he discerns.

Discovering the upper cone requires nothing more than research.  No work of art was brought forth in a vacuum.  Art the artists roots in Jackson Pollock’s inspired noodlings, or do his lines converge in the dour Dutch structuralism of Mondrian and the Bauahus? Such broad-based phyla can be unraveled by studying appearances, as biologists ascertain the family of a plant by the pairings of its leaves.  But as desert bushes, in extreme environmental conditions, can come to resemble each other closely – through bearing as disparate kinships to the tomato and evergreen plants – so artists whose work is superficially similar may have widely varying genuses.

Once the taxonomy of a piece has been generally decided, the critic begins to expand upon the lower bell.  This should be easy – it is from his own belfry he is sounding, rather than a stranger’s.  Sonorous reverberations (or light, dancing ones) that the work awakens in him must be isolated and pinned down, like butterflies in a thicket of leaves (mentioning Nabokov has brought out the lepidopterous side of art criticism in me, for the moment). Personal reflections, gut feelings, soundless puns, dredged memories have a part in the process.  This is “memory’s sting.”

A work of art, once manufactured, has a relationship to the external world as well as to its viewers’ internal one, and this too, is part of the lower bell.  If its effect on others has been minimal, this may be mentioned; natural history is fully of rusty side tracks.  Remember, the work of art itself remains unchanged, no matter what you say about it; it remains a narrow opening through which a world of glittering sand is visible.

The end is probably as good a place as any to mention that there is also room in good art criticism for “opinion,” as long as it is not too drawn out and doesn’t contain too many adjectives.  In Kansas City, where the growth of art is as marginal as the growth of blue fuzz on an apple, it is probably not necessary tor even productive, to slam works of art one doesn’t like.  Politic silence is probably more fruitful.  If some artist or organization requires hacking back, a critic would do well to check first to see if the roots are sound, lest the entire plant wither with pruning.



tammy smith

KC Artist Lifestyle is kicking back up this week with Kansas City artist extraordinaire Tammy Smith (@tammysmithdesign). Tammy is an artist and surface designer who has been in the commercial and fine art field, both as an artist and art director. She has worked in many different mediums, including ceramics, acrylic painting, 3D mixed media sculpture and wire sculpture.

After a career at Hallmark Cards designing party-ware, gift-wrap and social expression product, she began a freelance career working from her home studio. Tammy’s creative juices couldn’t be contained, and two years ago, she launch her very own line of products that illustrate places, animals and items that we can appreciate and love!

We are looking forward to seeing what a week in the life of Tammy (@tammysmithdesign) is all about, but since we just can’t wait, here are a few images of Tammy’s work and past Instagram images…

Smith_Tammy_Image 5_AL_7_16     Smith_Tammy_Image 1_AL_7_16     Smith_Tammy_Image 2_AL_7_16

Be sure to follow Tammy on her KCAC Instagram journey Thursday, July 21st – Tuesday, July 26th!

If you missed any of our previous Artist Lifestyle Artists you can always catch up on the KCAC Instagram (@kcartistscoalition) to see what has been happening or search social media with the hashtags: #kcartistlifestyle #kcacartistlifestyle