Sunday, 6 December 2015

Coping with the solitary nature of the creative life

Artists create largely alone in their studios.  It is a solitary pursuit, rather like writing, which I know first hand.  That is one reason why I enjoy doing radio or public speaking.  Those kinds of activities allow you social contact that is missing from the hours of private thinking, experimenting and doing.  We may create for ourselves to satisfy an internal need but they are inherently forms of communication, which imply an "other" in the form of an audience be they concert goers, readers or visitors to a gallery.

I believe most artists crave feedback.  Whenever possible, I try and give a little of that or a prolonged discussion when appropriate.  Recently, I got to spend a delightful afternoon with George Horan in his solo exhibition at the Emma Butler Gallery.  I had little opportunity to see much of Horan's painting over the years and it was a real adventure of discovery for me.  This kind of visit allows me to get know an artist first hand, ask questions (which I wouldn't do if I was writing an arm's length review), and share reactions and often more than one good joke.  Emma commented that the time I spent with George was characterized by "explosive laughter".  I take it that was a good sign.

A week or so later, I did the same kind of visit with Valerie Hodder at the Red Ochre Gallery, whose work I hadn't seen in years.  Unlike Horan's expansive abstracts Hodder's paintings were intimate, tiny works.  My opening observation was that I was curious about the immensity of her subject matter, which was landscape, in contrast to the scale she had chosen to work in.  After a period of largely positive comments from me Valerie felt confident enough to ask me for some tougher commentary.  So often, after an artist leaves the academic or educational setting they cease to get anything resembling real critique.

This was one of Valerie's larger acrylic's called
Carnal Knowledge.

I know one of my rules of thumb for years was that I would only cover a show if I felt positive about it (and I know I am not alone in that practice).  This is somewhat frustrating for me because writing a solid negative review is a challenge I would like to master.  I was speaking with a colleague in Toronto not that long ago and I inquired how they handled this dilemma.  Her answer was very revealing, "only write a negative review about an artist whose career is so solid that you know it won't really damage them."  I can honestly say that I think I've published only one negative review in years.

I am a bonafide culture vulture.  I read broadly, attend readings by authors and poets, plays, dance performances, and concerts.  I am blessed to live in a city that is awash in local talent.  Increasingly, I am asked to review theatre, dance and music that stretches from classical chamber music to Balkan funk rock.  More and more, this is for the web or e-zines.  But because of the abundance of local events and talent I feel that I do not make a dent in the cultural offerings.

1 comment:

  1. Carnal Knowledge... I'm for it. The painting too. I know what you mean, about the challenge of writing a negative review. I had a review blog for a little while where I set myself the challenge of really being hard on some well deserving targets, but it's not something I'm good at, I wanted to be one of those cold as ice bitchy critics, but couldn't quite manage it. Someone's gotta be the devil, I guess, but not me, I'm deputized to curse the devil. Not even do anything about it, just complain. Maybe in artistic ways.