Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Bob Dylan, Brenda Schmahmann, Jeanne Wright, Strydom van der Merwe, NMMU, Epsac

A few postings back I ran a vitriolic attack on my competence as an art reviewer by Rhodes University art history professor Brenda Schmahmann. In this posting I again run pages from the Nelson Mandela Metro Art Museum newsletter - this time from three months later, July 2005. I had responded to that attack, and my response was duly carried - but wedged in between two further assaults. This post also includes a review of a CD by Abstract Truth and a couple of art crits. But let's kick off with a review of the first part of Bob Dylan's autobiography.

My review of Chronicles, the first part of Bob Dylan's memoirs, appeared in the TGIF supplement of the Herald, Port Elizabeth, on December 9, 2005.

Instead of kicking off their "Hard Talk" section with my reply to Schmahmann's attack of three months earlier, the art museum launched off with another tirade from Jeanne Wright. Re-reading this, one thing that really jars - and which Schmahmann also used - is the need for a critic to be "responsible". What, in heaven's name, is responsible criticism? Responsible to whom? A critic's only responsibility is to the visual truth, not the painted word.

Then came another piece dripping in sarcasm, followed by my reply. But notice how they even stressed that Schmahmann has "the last word". This concludes below, whereafter we are told the discussion is closed. So I had no right of reply to these further attacks.

Schmahmann accuses me of misquoting her texts on the pictures she exhibited. This is nonsense. I read what she had to say and responded to their openly feminist slant. What I can deduce from this article is that she was offended that I failed to read her book. Shame. And bully for the Sunday Tribune writer for putting in all that effort to paint a glowing picture of her brilliance. I am sure as an academic exercise it was most rewarding. But the texts she speaks of - which was the main interface with the public - clearly spoke of an anti-male agenda, and I merely drew attention to that fact. It wasn't "misquotation", it was simply my interpretation. But what of her view that artworks do not have "inherent merit", or intrinsic merit, which is the terms I used (talk about misquotation!). If that were the case, then no one would be able to tell the difference between a Tretchikoff and a Kandinsky. She also adds this remarkable claim: "It is now generally accepted that people aren't born with some ability to appreciate and understand art, and that those unable to make meaning of an artwork are not somehow intrinsically insensitive or incompetent." How condescending. As someone who trained as an artist and studied art history, I think I know enough about drawing, design, and so on, to be able to discern what is worthwhile and what is rubbish. What I do in fact do is lavish praise and appreciation where it is earned. Because, believe it or not, I really love great art, especially painting, drawing and sculpture. I invite the likes of Schmahmann and Wright to peruse at their leisure the myriad drawings I have posted on this blog over the past few years - testimony I think to a life lived for art.

Anyway, enough of this. These articles appeared in mid-2005. It took until the end of 2010 before I was finally relieved of my role as Herald art critic, which I first started around 1992, having previously done the art crits for the Evening Post from 1985 till about 1988. But do you know what's ironic? Since a new editor has arrived on the Herald, Jeanne Wright has been given the occasional exhibition to review - in her dry, academic way. But these have been few and far between. Today the paper mainly relies on previews of shows and articles about the artists themselves - ie, free, uncritical self-promotion, which is what artists love. I always believed that what is most important is the art itself. You can dress up anything purporting to be art as something incredibly important and cerebral, but if the art is crap, it's crap. I covered all manner of show during my time, and will run a few more of those crits in ensuing postings. Often the exhibitions are by local artists who are not out to bedazzle the world. Instead, they are hard-working, practical people trying to sell their work for a living. And if, given my experience, I think the work has merit, I say so. And vice versa. I also refuse to read reams of explanatory, academic verbiage bent on "explaining" what is right before my eyes.

Escaping the dangerous world of art criticism, above is a review I wrote of a strange book called 54. It appeared in the Herald supplement, TGIF, on November 4, 2005.

My review of a Fresh Music CD, Silver Trees & Totum, by Abstract Truth, was hitched onto the end of this music-review article by Leon Muston, which appeared in TGIF sometime in November, 2005, though I forgot to date it.

Since being denied the opportunity to write anything political in the Herald (see earlier posting), I started keeping all my art reviews. I shan't use them all, but just a few to show the sort of stuff I had to cover on a weekly basis. Consider that I was working as a sub-editor on the Herald from around 3.30pm till 11.30pm each night. I'd get up the next morning, drive to an exhibition, spend an hour or two checking it out, then head home to write a review. I'd then make lunch and my evening packed lunch, pick up my sons from school, then head back to work.

This review of the NMMU student exhibition appeared on the same day as the one above. Visiting those exhibitions at the south campus would take at least three hours, considering the long drive and how big the shows were. But I enjoyed seeing where the students were at - and realised from my own experience as an art student, just how good it feels to get a positive mention in the local media.

The EP Society of Arts and Crafts is an institution in Port Elizabeth - as is its annual exhibition. Of course now it is under new management, and the gallery is called ArtEC, or suchlike. I've not been back to the six or so galleries I frequented for nearly two decades since being given the chop at the end of 2010.

No comments:

Post a Comment