Paradoxes, Purposes and Ponderances: Criticism


Rarely do artists enjoy the words of art critics. The only time that we do enjoy them is when they say something favorable about our work, and even then we are often nonplussed.

So, I am not exactly sure why I asked my friend and self appointed art critic Tom Wachunas to write about my “Safe Animals Safe Kids” mural. I was, let’s say, underwhelmed with his commentary (read it here).

To my own defense, Tom has written very favorable pieces about my work in the past, so my request was not totally ignorant.

And, although I am not sure, I think he meant to be favorable with his latest Art Wach blog post. I have to say, though, it left me scratching my head.

First of all, Tom detests the oversaturated football culture of our city of Canton, OH as much I do, so his football references in both of his writings about my work are really confusing.

And then there is the comment that calls my work “part photo-shop manipulation, part paint-by-number segmenting”. Not exactly the compliment an artist looks for.

I don’t profess to be an art critic. I don’t profess to have work that is going to rock the so-called Art World like Picasso, Worhol, or Banksy. But I suspect that these Art World rock stars have had worse comments made about them.

For what it is worth, I think people grasp for words to explain the child-like simplicity of my work and sometimes settle on “paint-by-number” without really contemplating the dismissive nature of the comparison. I would, however, expect a little more awareness from an art critic who knows my work and knows that my process is a bit more complicated than paint-by-number.

Sigh. Oh well.

Tom has a penchant for inserting his own agendas into his commentaries, too. In writing about my work, he takes the opportunity to chastise the Canton arts establishment about “the state of public art works as it stands now in downtown Canton,” complaining about the fact that the “Safe Animals Safe Kids” mural is my third public artwork in a two-block area. (Actually he gives me too much credit. It is only my second.)

A handful of artists have created new interest in the downtown Canton area, so complaints about how many public artworks there are by particular artists seem sort of bourgesois, if you ask me. At least someone is doing something to revive a previously blighted area and bringing it new interest.

I do agree that a more strategic public art planning process extending from the pioneering artists’ efforts is warranted. Such a process is beginning.

Tom does make positive notes about the mission of the mural to raise awareness about the connections between animal abuse, domestic violence and child abuse, and for that I am grateful.

Were I the art critic reviewing my mural, I would have made mention of other legitimate artistic questions of scale and placement, but hey, I am not the critic.

Regardless of our disagreement, Tom and I will remain friends, and we will continue to share dialog about our thoughts on art and life. It is invigorating to be in a city with a thriving arts community where such conversation has a regular place. Is your city like that?