Tony Ferguson on sun 25 may 03
You are so good at pointing out my sometimes lack of qualifying certain
points. So let me qualify my answers:
I didn't think I implied that others should follow suite in how I approach
viewing art. Like a good art student, I always dug up info on the artist
and their background, influences, previous work, etc--and this experience
led me to the grail of my "now" understanding of the artist and the work.
What it led me to was learning about art history, the artist but also
validating my professor's knowledge and the canon of art history.
The works of art that spoke to me--spoke to me.
It's not whether they speak or how they speak to you or anyone else, its my
experience and if I or you connect with a work of art in some way, well,
that's what it is:
a connection, an intimacy that does not require critical analysis. Yet
surely provides good late night discussion!
Do you analyze love? Do you analyze beauty? When something is true can you
IT is subjective.
A great work of art is like a great song; the music moves you and is not
dependant upon the words for you to have a connection or enjoyment of it.
The "words" may frame a context, a pseudo or real "other" understanding, but
when the song is over, it is just you and its reverberating impressions the
song has left upon you. Thinking about it too much will destroy the music.
I will say, that research may help in providing "some" understanding and
possibly even leading to an appreciation, as false as it may be because that
will have to do with my "experience" and what I think I know about the world
or the time an artist lived in. I believe artists are far more complex
than critics can discuss so they must discuss "something," right!
The greatest accomplishment an artist can make is a work that is true to his
or her self--and this will inevitably propel the individual along their path
of development. They will get better and better and better--it will connect
with some and others it will not.
Not everyone is meant to get everything. If I make something beautiful,
maybe my statement is purely about beauty and truth. When my wife is dancing
she is celebrating the thousands of years of childbirth and motherhood via
belly dancing--but I don't need to know about the pharonic, Nubian, or
kaligee dance to sit back and observe, see that
she is a beautiful dancer. Combined with the wonderful music, it is an
aesthetic experience that does not require anything other than watching,
listening, and enjoying.
But let's take a functional teapot for second. It looks nice--we'll call
this aesthetically pleasing, looks lovely, beautiful, the glaze harmonizes
with surface and form of the pot. All the parts flow together. The baby
pours well, doesn't drip much. Handle fits nice, its light, doesn't hurt my
hand when its full of tea. How much more do I need to know about the artist
other than then he or she wanted to create something pleasing to the eye and
Now, if my art is politically motivated--by variegating a traditional form
with text such as is the case of Koie's 911 cups, the artist is begging the
viewer to dig deeper--and that is his or her prerogative.
But this art requires the viewer to do some research to possibly get his or
her intended message. It is question of how the artist successfully leads
the viewer by the nose along the crumb trail to meaning of the work that
denotes whether or not the work succeeded in communicating and how much work
the viewer is willing to do. Many of us were tripped up in the poor
craftsmanship and the price and this is revealing of our approach to a
functional mug and our feeling that someone who has done such great work
before would, in a sense, feel these poorly crafted works were worth what he
may be used to getting. And this leads us into many other aspects of
analysis that after awhile becomes a waste of time AND we still didn't know
what is going on--we are left to assumptions, ideas. Were these works
successful? On some levels maybe yes, others, no.
Also, Vince, I didn't say art should be viewed from a vacuum--I merely meant
pieces that I see as the strongest do not warrant the extra baggage to
understand them--that they speak on some universal level, primeval
understanding or something beyond regular cognition. Yes, we all like to
bring things into language to talk about them and this is the ordinary and
"practical" way of acquiring "understanding," but I suppose I am in it for
the lure of the mystery, the discovery through the creative process of
learning. And as such, this affects my outlook on how I see art. I do,
however, see the process of researching the background on an artwork &
artist as providing an opportunity for learning as well as providing some
enlightenment through discovery--and this can be fun
--but is this not all based upon other's ideas that have been written down
and its marriage with our "experience?" Why should I need other's ideas to
appreciate a good work of art?
So I suppose, Vince, it is all-good. However anyone wants to approach a
work of art is how he or she will approach it with their individual
experience and awareness of the world.
But I will stand by what I said:
The strongest works always speaks for itself.
It just may not speak to you or me in the same way.
And that is ok.
On Lake Superior, where the sky meets the Lake
Stoneware, Porcelain, Raku and more
by Coleman, Ferguson, Winchester...
315 N. Lake Ave
Duluth, MN 55806
----- Original Message -----
From: "Vince Pitelka"
Sent: Saturday, May 24, 2003 3:14 PM
Subject: Re: Koie Ryoji On-line Exhibition - Tony's comments
> > If I need to know an artist's background, bio, influences, etc, to
> > understand his or her work, then the work has failed in my opinion with
> > exception of that artist's friends and collectors.
> This is fine as a personal decision, Tony, but please don't imply that
> anyone else should limit themselves this way. Of course it's okay for you
> or anyone else to go entirely on how the work strikes you, given only the
> piece itself without any documentation or background. There is nothing
> wrong with that, but remember that true appreciation of art as a
> endeavor has little to do with whether or not you like the work. It has
> do with understanding the work and the context of its creation.
> But think of it this way: if you always observe and appreciate art based
> only on what is in the artwork itself, your appreciation is based entirely
> on what you already know - on your present context for understanding and
> appreciation. So you deny yourself the opportunity to expand on that
> knowledge and therefore on your capacity for the appreciation and
> understanding of art. Why in the world would you do that?
> > If the artist needs to explain the work so we "get it," the artist
> > at making a statement has failed as well.
> Who says the artist needed to explain anything? He did so for the benefit
> of those of us who are open to a broader understanding and interpretation.
> I'd say that was a very considerate thing to do. Without the explanation
> you might understand the work and you might not, but to deny yourself the
> opportunity to investigate further, to find out what the artist was trying
> to accomplish, seems an unproductive self-limitation.
> > If a work is dependant on an artists career and what they have done in
> > past to understand it, it is also a failure.
> Huh? You better explain this one. Every artist's work is dependent on
> their career and what they have done in the past, and it is ALWAYS
> instructive to learn that information. Again, why in the world would you
> deny yourself this opportunity?
> Best wishes -
> - Vince
> Vince Pitelka
> Appalachian Center for Craft
> Tennessee Technological University
> 1560 Craft Center Drive, Smithville TN 37166
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Vince Pitelka on sun 25 may 03
I do appreciate everything you say here, and I can sense your passion about
art. But art is a constantly evoloving thing, and new modes of expression
come along all the time. Artists are inventers. They are constantly
creating new visual language, and it would be pretty cocky of us to claim
that we always have the ability to understand that language. Limiting
ourselves to appreciating art in our own terms is a pretty severe
limitation. The art that speaks to us in direct visceral terms, in essence
"speaking our language" is certainly miraculous, but it is just a small part
of the worthwhile art out there.
What about when you see a work of art that intrigues you but otherwise
completely baffles you. You sense that there is something worthwhile there,
but the meaning and content escape you. So you read the artist's statement
and any critical writing that is available, talk to other people about the
work, and perhaps that gives you greater insight into the artist's purpose
and vision. In some cases, that can unlock a world of experiential meaning
that was previously inaccessible.
I know that there are many who deny themselves this opportunty, and I don't
understand that. To interpret art only in terms of what we already know
seems terribly limited. New visual language appears all the time, and we
have to go to some trouble to learn the language.
I agree that in the ceramic world, the impression of poor craftsmanship and
an exhorbitant price can be an instant turnoff. But that would never stop
me from further investigating the artists motive and meaning if I was the
least bit curious. It just seems that some people cut off the dialogue
before they give themselves a chance to seek the meaning of a work of art.
I think that the notion of "some universal level, primeval understanding or
something beyond regular cognition' is too easy. I think this can be
fabricated by a clever artisan with a good command of the medium. The
finest art goes further, asking questions that often beg investigation. It
certianly does speak of something primeval, but the degree to which it goes
beyond regular cognition specifically addresses the importance of doing the
research into the artists context and meaning. Some art addresses us in
direct, visceral terms. So, is that the only work that is good?
Ultimately, Tony, you summed it up. It is all good. No matter HOW we
approach and interpret art, it is a good thing. I am just trying to
maximize the possibilities.
Best wishes -
Appalachian Center for Craft
Tennessee Technological University
1560 Craft Center Drive, Smithville TN 37166
Home - firstname.lastname@example.org
Office - email@example.com
615/597-6801 x111, FAX 615/597-6803