Is this a critique?

Article  /  CriticalThinking   CarolinDenter
Published: 20.03.2018
Carolin Denter Carolin Denter
Carolin Denter
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Have you ever paused and wondered, why do we need criticism? Why it is so important for art and what role it plays in the field of contemporary jewellery?
I am a Maker. I am Goldsmith, i do contemporary jewellery. I am working in Marketing and as Content Manager, i give Lectures, i am painting. I do my own advertisement and graphics, i am my own secretary, sometimes i am even my own photographer. I could go further and further with that list because, as many of us jewellers, i take over many roles in my professional career. I am happy with it, most of the times. But it makes me feel as well exhausted even insecure sometimes. No wonder, that i am not bursting into enthusiasm when someone passes by my works and gives critic.

After all the work i have done, after the years of tears and sweat i put into making my jewellery, after feeling confident about what i was making, this comments always hurt me on a personal level. Then, i remind myself that most of the audience are not aware of all that additional work, or lets say most of them don't care, while others do it for pleasure. In this times i try to berate myself, because receiving critic is important, that is what we learn already in Kindergarten. But let's be honest, who is a big fan of it?

Myself, i am really critical of my own work. People around me usually appreciate that. Mostly, i deliver my work in time and in a excellent quality. And because i usually put so much effort and time in this work, i am expecting the same from people around me. Because of this, i am tending to be an honest critic of other peoples work. I know, it doesn't sound really sympathic on the first hand, but if i am working on my best, can´t i expect it from other too? Of course, i prefer constructive criticism and this is what i try to pass as well to my colleagues.

A good critic, in my eyes, is not putting a label on the work. A good critic, would share his perception and leave it open to others. A good critic needs technique, knowledge and practice. And exactly this is the point where most of us are doubting our own abilities to be a critic. We are not used to giving critics to others, some people are not even good at reflecting their own work and habits. This leads me to one of my main questions: What makes us capable and what permits us to be a critic?

At first, my natural reaction was, when i see something that i don't like i can be critical: low of quality or without a good structure, something without reflection, or just something that is not interesting for me. Of course a poor answer. Criticism is important too if we see something we like, maybe it even makes it more worthy to like it? 
But let's have a deeper look to option a). The first time it came to my mind, that we might have not enough critics in the contemporary jewellery world was, when i started to visit different Jewellery Weeks all over Europe. Usually, you will never find so many different works and exhibitions at the same time and place. I was overwhelmed and impressed by the quantity, not so much by the quality. 

On the one hand, it seems to be a good marketing tool for jewellers, to get in touch with colleagues, present the jewellery to the outside world and sell pieces at one of the jewellery Weeks in Europe. More attention and more visitors will reach your work, as it would happen usually. On the other hand, I found some of the shows I have seen really poor in quality. No structure, no curatorial process.  So, let's talk about what the word Exhibition means:

An art exhibition is traditionally the space in which art objects (in the most general sense) meet an audience. The exhibit is universally understood to be for some temporary period unless, as is rarely true, it is stated to be a "permanent exhibition. Such expositions may present pictures, drawings, video, sound installation, performance, interactive art, new media art or sculptures by individual artists, groups of artists or collections of a specific form of art. The artworks may be presented in museums, art halls, art clubs or private art galleries, or at some place the principal business of which is not the display or sale of art, such as a coffeehouse. An important distinction is noted between those exhibits where some or all of the works are for sale, normally in private art galleries, and those where they are not.

I think all of us can agree, that it needs more than just a nice space and art objects to put on a show. What is missing in this definition of an Art-Exhibition, is what I was missing in the most shows I have seen during some Jewellery Weeks: The common sense, the connection, the curator.
But what does it even mean to curate a show?
Curating an exhibition of artwork requires editing and explaining a concept, an idea or something else by using the works of one or more artists. The pieces, are the base of the explanation. You start to research, in the best way you start to contact artists, owners/ museum or galleries or private collections for supplementary pieces. Curating also requires refinement, project management, budget management, programming considerations, educational training, decisiveness, and even architectural skills.
cu·ra·tor  noun 
One who has the care and superintendence of something; especially: one in charge of a museum, zoo, or another place of exhibit. / Merriam-Webster Dictionary

To be honest, in the times of the Internet (no, it's not the devil, I love the world wide web and its possibilities) everyone declares to be a curator. One is curating its Instagram, blogs and Pinterest boards, even cooking recipes. Being a curator, has not the meaning as it had 10 years ago, it is often missing the sobriety and know how. But as well another main Problem showed up, once I start focussing on Jewellery: I realized, that there are no critics in the jewelry world. And if there was exisitng some, they disappeared and no one noticed. It almost seems as if all the battles were defeated, as if the critic were no longer in demand. Even in his activity as a Talentscout, he is hardly needed. But as we claim Jewellery to be part of the Fine Art don't we need critics? Don't we need to challenge ourselves with critics, with the opinion of someone who really cares about our work? Who understands?

We jewelers, however, are multitaskers, we have many roles: curator, gallery owner, and agent in one, photographer, publisher ... It is obvious to take over the role as a critic himself. How, then, should we write critically about an exhibition in a museum, where we must be afraid not to exhibit? How should we write critically about the exhibition of a colleague without being sure that he would leave us in his role as curator at the next exhibition? Is it because the jewelry world is predestined for Klüngeleien? Does not count talent, skill and artistic expression, but only connections and pure friendships? Is it because the work of art is not acknowledged in the art world? Or are we so arrogant to think we would not need a critic? Can we still deal with criticism at all?

Illustration by Raymond Biesinger

I for sure understand the need to fulfill more than one role to survive, but to be taken seriously, however, the roles have to be divided, artists, critics, gallerist, and curators must clearly define themselves. Only if the role is clear and unmistakable one will be considered credible. If a curator or a critic is suspected of following his clueless interests and using his texts to help the artists or gallery owners he can lose trustworthiness.

Questions of the term of a curator start to arise. I found the description of a so-called „Commissioner“ which might be similar to a curator. To be more detailed: The Commissioner is in charge of the exhibit in general. The Curator is responsible for its artistic aspects: choosing the works to be shown, figuring out how they should be positioned relative to each other, writing explanations of them, and similar art-related tasks. The person who applies for the job of Commissioner may say that he or she will also be the Curator, or may choose to work with someone else as Curator. Might be I start to think a bit philosophical now, but Since a Curator select artworks for a specific exhibition, is a curator a critic for the artist or how important is a personal aesthetic preference on this? How can we as artists, art educators, curators, and so on work together to support an environment where casual curating/engagement could lead to deeper, more sustained engagement with works of art? As the casual use of “curate” becomes more commonplace, will people be primed to want to engage more with jewellery - onsite and online? If so, what does this engagement look like? Because of this word use, will we see more young people who want to become curators? Questions we all need to be confronted with to find a solution. (To read more about the role of Curating, find here a Series of Interviews with Curators).

Illustration by Raymond Biesinger

In General,  an Exhibition is a tool for transmitting knowledge. In our case, it would be the knowledge about contemporary- or Art jewellery. We want people to know it and we want people to understand it as art. So are we doing ourselves a favor in avoiding critic? Me personally, always struggled with critics. I find it not easy to receive critic on my own art since for sure I open myself up, it makes me vulnerable. The same problem I have with giving critics. To close friends and in person, I always find it healthy to speak about weaknesses or strength in artworks. But giving critic to strangers? Maybe its part of the Jewellery world or part of my personality, I found it really difficult, to be honest about what I see. My biggest fears come up in the following questions:  Who am I to be a critic? Since the Jewellery world is so small, what happens if I give critic to someone with my reputation? Will People accept critics and more important, can it change something?