At some point during the past 30 years I must have offended a Florida artist by refusing to commission an article on his artwork, making negative comments during a critique, or rejecting his submissions to a juried show. I don’t remember him or the particular circumstances, but obviously he has a clear recollection of my criticism as well as the negative comments made by others. The artist recently wrote to tell me that “regardless of negative behavior toward my talent from amateurish, boring landscape artists like yourself,” he will be exhibiting his work in a museum. He then advised me to wrap my “snobby attitude along with your mediocre paintings and your magazine in a tight little bundle and sit on it.”
I wonder why an artist would be offended by comments made by people he considers “amateurish, boring landscape artists;” or why he thinks one exhibition automatically disproves the negative statements made about his artwork. Criticism is completely subjective, and what one expert dismisses another may embrace. If the evaluation is based on a professional’s training and experience, it can be helpful; and one rejection shouldn’t provoke an artist to become angry or unprofessional.
When artists start to argue with me about the comments I made about their artwork, I ask them to first tell me whether they are intending to change my mind or learn from the criticism. If they think they are going to change my opinion, I assure them they are wasting their time. If, on the other hand, they want to understand my comments I ask them to start the conversation by telling me what they were trying to accomplish when they created the work in question. I can then say why I think they didn’t achieve their objectives, or why I’m not personally interested in that kind of expression. At the end of the conversation, I hope they will either recognize that I am not part of the audience they want to speak to, or that the message they hoped I would receive just didn’t come across effectively.
If I thought the Florida artist wanted to do anything more than stroke his bruised ego, I would invite him to enter into this kind of dialogue. Hopefully we could then help each other get better at communicating through the visual arts.