Artists Respond to the 60 WRD/MIN Art Critic

Arthouse, Austin

Performance July 10-12, 2009
by Dan Boehl

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      Lori Waxman
      60 WRD/MIN Art Critic
      Performance at Arthouse, July 2009
      Courtesy Arthouse

      View Gallery

      Lori Waxman, the 60 WRD/MIN Art Critic, had a desk, a computer and an assistant situated in Arthouse’s storefront. Artists dropped off their work beforehand. Waxman assessed the work in 20-minutes, her reviews appearing on a TV screen as she composed. (The reviews were later reprinted in the Austin American Statesman online.) While I watched her through the Arthouse window that Saturday, July 11th, an artist passed by carrying some paintings. I asked if he had been reviewed. He said, no, all the slots were filled, but there were a few walkup slots on Sunday. Those were going to be hard to get, he said. It got me thinking about why an artist would want participate in marathon art criticism and if they would get anything out of the experience. Mostly, I wanted to know if Waxman delivered on the service she offered: brief, serious reviews to all artists regardless of location, training, or reputation. So I asked seven participants some questions about Waxman’s performance. I wanted to get a wide sampling of artists practicing in Austin. To this end, I questioned participants in various career stages.

      …might be good: Please tell me about your career as an artist: How long you have been practicing, do you have formal training, how would you describe your exhibition record?

      Laura Caffrey: While I can't cite specific formal training, claiming I am self-taught seems a bit untrue. I was always encouraged as a kid to make things, took art class throughout school, one studio art class toward my bachelor's degree, a handful of community college adult education classes (blacksmithing, metalsmithing, upholstery), then a masters program in architecture. I started making the assemblages in the midst of all that, so I am not sure how much of the teaching influences/influenced what I do. I have had several solo exhibits and participated in a handful of group shows, but I haven't ever shown in a traditional gallery space.

      Jory Drew: If you consider middle school and high school art classes formal training, then yes. I, myself, personally do not and I feel it’s the same for rest of the kids in the leadership group in the Young Artist @ Arthouse program. We are all pretty much self taught and create art because we can and want to. From what I know about my teammates and myself we are all on the same level; when it comes to having our work in an exhibition it’s zero, zilch, nada …um haven’t done it. Except for the few that might have been in Ahead of Their Time (Exhibition for high schoolers, held at Arthouse) this year or in the past.

      Michelle Foster: I have been a practicing artist for 5 years, showing in private galleries and independent coffee shops—everything from A Sense of Place, a juried exhibition at the Gertrude Herbert Institute of Art in Georgia, to the local gallery Birdhouse here in Austin.

      Ashley Love: I'm a self-taught artist, and I've always loved drawing, but I really started getting into it once I was in middle school. I've only had one of my pieces in an actual exhibition, and that was with the Young Artist program at Okay Mountain.

      Erick Michaud: I have been an artist since 1991 (the beginning of my school training). I have been educated up to the level of a Masters of Fine Arts, and I have been showing in venues a few times a year since 1996.

      Tom Rouse: I have been painting since childhood. I was a painting major at the University of Texas and received my BFA from there in 1971. My exhibition record is sparse at best. I've been in 5 group shows in the last 10 years.

      Trick Yang: I grew up on TV and video games and since I was a kid, I would nerdily draw Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle mini comic strips. When we got a computer in the house, I found out about Paint Shop Pro 3.11 and I embraced graphic design. I think the combination of constantly doing both as a hobby has really shaped my work. I've never had any formal training.

      ...mbg: Do you have a history of being reviewed by local or national critics?

      Laura Caffrey: Nope.

      Jory Drew: Well in the Young Artist program we are critiqued by Jaime Castillo. He is very insightful and knowledgeable. But well… local and after a while you would, not to be rude, want a second opinion. And if someone like Lori Waxman was to come along, why in the world would you want to pass that up?

      Michelle Foster: No.

      Ashley Love: I've been reviewed online on Deviantart, but other than that, this is my fist time being reviewed.

      Erick Michaud: I have been reviewed from time to time and occasionally I will be mentioned in something.

      Tom Rouse: Except for the 60 WPM (which I considered more of a performance piece that a real critique. Although, I felt Ms. Waxman was genuine in her appraisal.) I have never been reviewed.

      Trick Yang: Not at all! This was my first critique and I am glad for it.

      ...mbg: Why did you want to participate?

      Laura Caffrey: I like to hear what people have to say about my work, and it seemed like an excellent opportunity. And I like to participate in unusual events. It was really challenging to explain it to people. I had to do more research on Waxman and this project to have a clear understanding myself.

      Jory Drew: Well… personally I love hearing how others feel about my work and what it makes them think of. But also it’s great for experience outside the youth group and it also gets me more prepared for college and other professional critiques.

      Michelle Foster: I find criticism valuable and necessary to my own art practice.

      Ashley Love: Why wouldn't I? To have any form of review, critique, or opinion on my art is definitely something very valuable to me, simply because my art is getting out there, and people are seeing it.

      Erick Michaud: I don't know. I thought it would be good for someone outside of Austin to see my work. I thought it was going to be more serious.

      Tom Rouse: I wanted professional feedback, good or bad.

      Trick Yang: Having received some good feedback about my work throughout the few years, I wanted to see what a professional art reviewer would have to say. Would she completely brutalize my work and reveal that my motives are based upon positive feedback from my sycophantic social circles?

      ...mbg: How much work did you take to Arthouse? How did you get it there?

      Laura Caffrey: I took one framed assemblage, wrapped in plastic in a cardboard box and my handmade portfolio with photographs of my other work. My boyfriend dropped me at the door and went to look for parking.

      Jory Drew: We, the leadership group, each brought four pieces, and as a group curated our own “show”, where we each got to have two pieces to present to Lori. I pulled the lucky straw and got to have three because some of my pieces are involved in series. We all pretty much bused own stuff there or had our moms drop us or our stuff off.

      Michelle Foster: I took about 10 pieces to Arthouse via car.

      Ashley Love: I pretty much took everything I was working on during the week. I've never done anything really bigger than my sketchbook.

      Erick Michaud: I took one physical piece and a DVD with images and written information.

      Tom Rouse: I took 6 paintings. The largest being 48 by 36 inches. I carried them in my truck.

      Trick Yang: I picked three pieces, all were pen drawings. I got it there by zeppelin. Just kidding, I drove there by car.

      ...mbg: What were your expectations for the performance (what did you think would happen)?

      Laura Caffrey: I thought there would be more interaction among the artists being reviewed, the critic and other artists waiting for reviews. I was surprised that the space for the process was so limited and tightly controlled. I had thought it would be more of an interpersonal event, and it seemed a bit mechanical. I have some ideas on what could improve it.

      Jory Drew: When we all heard that we were going to be critiqued by Lori our reactions were very mixed. Some were excited. I myself was a little hesitant. But for the most part we were all ready to get started and wanted to see what Lori would think of our work.

      Michelle Foster: I did not know what to expect, but I hoped for an honest critique of newer work that I could benefit from.

      Ashley Love: I really didn't have any idea of what would happen. I just went with it.

      Erick Michaud: I don't know, I guess I was hoping there was going to be some dialogue before she wrote about the work. I had misinterpreted what performance meant in her explanation of what she was going to do.

      Tom Rouse: Other than being "discovered" and featured on the cover of ARTnews, I thought it would be fun.

      Trick Yang: I didn't actually know that she was doing a performance piece by reviewing my work until after I arrived. Initially after I finally realized that it was a performance, I was afraid that it would affect the quality of her review. Her "receptionist" told me they were running late and could not fulfill the time slot I had chosen, and I had to catch a flight out of town, so I just left my work there.

      ...mbg: Did the review offer you any insight into your work? If so, what kind of insight did Waxman provide? If not, what do you think Waxman missed?

      Laura Caffrey: I can't say Waxman's review hit on anything I hadn't already thought about. Nor do I think she missed anything. Spot-on, really. Which was both good and bad. I got no new insight, but that meant confirmation that I am successful getting my ideas across.

      Jory Drew: Lori Waxman looked at my work with a very conceptual eye, where I look at my work mainly visually. She saw things about my work I don’t even think about or pay attention to. She opened up my eyes to something other than visual pleasure and made me think of the directions in which I’m taking my work.

      Michelle Foster: Waxman offered the advice to know when to exercise restraint with my mixed media assemblages. I heeded her advice and found it especially helpful. At times I keep adding to a piece until I have ruined it. This advice caused me to take pieces created since at a slower pace, and to stand back from them, and give them time before just slapping something else on top to cope with the feeling of something being missing.

      Ashley Love: She definitely let me see how my audience views my work and was very positive in the way that she described it.

      Erick Michaud: She got a good handle on some of it, but I couldn't help feel that I was getting the short end of some stick. It was "her" service not the service to a community that mattered.

      Tom Rouse: I think Ms. Waxman did a fine job with the time she had.

      Trick Yang: She really put to words, especially on my piece, Communication Device I, what I was trying to go for, in such a concise manner that I don't think my mind would have allowed me to. The reference to Dr. Seuss was not purposeful but her acknowledgment of the linkage was flattering, there is a little bit of Dr. S in each one of us anyway. I really don't think she missed anything, she could tell the methodical and purposeful nature of my work despite the fact that they appear to be "doodles." She was readily able to see though those generalizations and formulate my motives into words.

      Dan Boehl is a poet. His chapbook Les MISERES ET LES MAL-HEURS DE LA GUERRE will be available from Greying Ghost this fall.

      Salvador Castillo
      Aug 28, 2009 | 8:10am

      Nice namedropping Mr. Drew! And not at all rude.

      These responses seem to point to a need of artists to share their work and have dialogue about what they are doing. Most of these respondents don’t have long exhibition histories, so I’m wondering who they share their work with outside of their studio?
      If they are not sharing, why not?

      Drawing circles in Austin include Austin Figurative Gallery @USAA, Nigthmoves @Pump Project, and AVAA Life Drawing Sessions. I imagine there is a good deal of socializing and feedback involved.
      Then, there are the Monthly Critique Nights at Co-Lab.  The number I have attended, there have been a very small number of artists present.

      Why did it take a performance by a foreign critic in the heart of downtown Austin to get these artists out of their studios?
      Aug 28, 2009 | 8:39am

      Hauling art in your truck to a critique sounds cool but in practice email makes more sense, assuming your work needs criticism in the first place.  Of course I’d want to see a picture up-close to admire it, if it’s that good.  For most work the resolution of a computer is fine for getting the gist of a composition.  If you have abstract 2D work you want me to look at, email (send links, no attachments please.)

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