I am one of the creatives who miss critique. About Critique. Interview with Susan Pietzsch from Schmuck2

Interview  /  CriticalThinking   CarolinDenter
Published: 18.03.2020
Susan Pietzsch Susan Pietzsch
Carolin Denter
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From the first seven interviews about critique, we received many answers and ideas. But more important: more questions came up. We go into the second round of interviews and talk with people from the contemporary jewellery scene to answer questions about censorship, morality and what value criticism has towards the transformation of society.

In this eleventh interview of our new series about critique, we are talking to Susan Pietzsch who is a German artist based in Tokyo/Japan whose work focuses on a complex examination of the contemporary concept of jewellery. People may don’t know her name, but the „label“ Schmuck2.
We are talking about criticism, being critical and critiques. What is your understanding of these three terms?
When I think of criticism, I'm sure, like many others, negative feelings are first and foremost. Feelings fed by discomfort from personal rejection or rejection of work. In contrast however, I am very interested in critical discussion. Interested in improving my work through it. So for me, it is important to bridge this contradiction with mindful, logical thinking.

If I look at the terms from a logical distance, for me criticism, as well as the term “being critical” means a relevant evaluation of an object or an action based on standards. The adjective "critical" has interestingly an opposite, "uncritical", which in a way confirms the unpleasant nature of the word "critical" for me.
However, if I speak about classical art criticism, best seen in reviews, for me criticism means a contextual discussion, description, analysis, and assessment of art.
Derived from the French word "critique", I believe authentic criticism can be found more in the art world.
Interestingly, the French word goes back to the terms distinction and separation.
I find that fascinating, and against this background it may make it easier, to see criticism in a more progressive light.
On what occasions in daily life are you confronted with criticism of your work or approach? Does this have an impact on the "final product“?
To be honest, I miss the critical exchange or criticism in my work.
By that I don't mean extensive reviews (I miss them too), I'm talking more about having a kind of pool of critical conversation where my work can grow.
I sometimes worry that our growing, seemingly trivial life, will take away the power to really grapple with these issues.
On the other hand, for many years, I have been living in a country where open criticism is not really a part of the culture. So that's another reason why I miss critical discussions. As German, I am used to receiving clear and face to face criticism.
Here in Japan, I am often much more concerned with finding out whether I was criticized in conversation or not. It is the opposite.
Interestingly, linguistic expressions play a major role here, and that can make up a large part of the culture of criticizing. One could also speak of morality as one of the priorities you mentioned in the introduction. However, I am still not sure how this cultural gap is reflected in my work.

You trained as a goldsmith and have a degree in jewellery. However, in the past few years your scope of action has increased considerably. You have been working as a curator, you plan happenings and events and you have commented on your own work. Tell us, what changed in your approach to criticism when your perspective changed?
I have always been very critical of my own work and the environment in which it takes place. I think that's why I'm where I am now. For example, with ever-changing content and as such additional target groups, I constantly expose myself to new, also critical, criteria by which my work can and must be assessed. This affects me as much as my counterparts.
Criticism as a motor for change or progress. Maybe I would put it that way. My criticism as such does not change, it is just a tool to make things grow.

However, I don't see myself as a real critic, like the French term we mentioned before. I would like to leave that job to those who are trained for it. And I hope they have enough work to do, to keep their job going. This is a problem that we currently have to face.
However, for myself I'm more interested in a critical discussion. I think criticism is needed to keep our culture vibrant. This idea has not changed for me over the years. It has just solidified. And I’m grateful to all of my new colleagues, for the critical questions they ask especially at the beginning of a collaboration.

Peter Deckers said critics are a link in the jewellery discourse chain, an important community connection, a voice that brings the audience into the exhibitions. Could you tell us more about how you share your critical thoughts, good or bad, and where you find a safe space to communicate them?
When I think about where I voice my critical thoughts, it's pretty obvious in face-to-face conversation. That personal conversation, which can then be enjoyed by the public, for example in the form of round table discussions, but also in interviews.
Also, the publications that I publish on current themes also form a type of critique. I often invite colleagues to review work or themes in texts.

There is no question that the Internet offers an immense platform for voicing criticism. But personally I believe that due to the large quantity of articles, often very quickly written (another phenomenon of our time) the quality of critique gets lost.
Personally, I find that my longing for fewer but more selective, or more specific articles is growing. The smaller and finer details have been lost. Not that I would feel safer then, but I believe that the personal, attentive and well-proportioned opinion also has a significant value.

We understand, there are many different ideas about how the contemporary jewellery world should handle critique and criticism. Some people think there is not enough, some people think there is no place for „loud critique“ anymore. Others wonder, who should take on the role of being a critic. What are your thoughts on this, where do you see opportunities and where are the dead ends?
As I have said before, I am one of the creatives who miss critique. I don't think that criticism should play a central role in practice, but in any case, I think criticism is not an unimportant part of the artistic process.
Criticism should not become a battlefield.
I had the impression that criticism in the contemporary jewellery world had heated up rapidly in the past few years and then possibly got tangled. This can happen but it is no reason to cancel it from now on. You can learn from, and formulate new standards. The culture of criticism has to grow. And with it those who formulate criticism and those who accept it.
Criticism should help work to become itself, to become something that it would have liked to have been and is not yet able to be. According to Pravu Mazumdar, it is important to help the artist's through criticism, which is something we have to be careful with since it is always colored by our subjective emotions. As soon as we see a work of art, we instinctively embed it in a cloud of words, stimulated by critics, journalists, gallerists, jurors, viewers and the artists themselves. The perception of work is always accompanied by informing words. What do you consider before critiquing someone? And how do you think someone, who has never been critical/ criticized, for example a student, can make first steps towards this?
As a very empathetic person, it is natural for me to not formulate criticism directly and carelessly towards my counterparts. Depending on who is sitting or standing opposite me, or to whom the criticism is directed, I not only take a closer look at the work, but also the person. Critique is, for me, a carefully thought-out response. In the best case one that understands itself without misinterpretation, on which questions can be answered and on which one can grow.
Then, as already mentioned, I live in a culture in which I have experienced interpersonal behavior in a completely different way for many years. Respect and acceptance are aspects that fortunately still form a natural basis for understanding our interpersonal relationships.
For me, this is a type of attentive, respectful communication (in which the content must be conveyed clearly).
I think criticism needs to be trained and this can, for example, happen with practice and time.
For students, there could be classes that deal with this topic.
With professional partners, but also with each other.
„Die Stunde der Kritik“ (the hour of criticism)  is a well-known title in the German language. We need to start observing how others critique, what makes some critiques stronger, and others less effective, and then join in on the fun.
If you learn to write a review well, you can also improve your own work.

Moral and normative ethics are thought to be the bases of society. What role do you think morality plays in critique and criticism and are there any models you look to as an ideal scenario for art criticism.
Well, maybe I repeat it too often, but yes, morality is very important to me. At a time when it seems to get lost, all the more so.
I believe, a poorly delivered critique can be valueless to the recipient, or worse, it can be devastating. Moreover, just like learning to receive criticism, learning to give a powerful uplifting constructive criticism is an important part of the creative process. To me and surely to students and others as well.

Even delivering something that is mostly negative, if done well, can help inspire the artist. As for an ideal scenario of criticize, I don't really have a standard plan. But I did a little research and came across the so-called "sandwich practice“. This principle suggests starting off your critique with something positive, then discuss the weaknesses, and finish off with what worked well.
That also corresponds to a level of morality I just mentioned about.
Leading off with a negative will, under most circumstances, turn off the recipient and they won’t be open to the critical points, no matter how valuable they may be. As such it is important to find something about the project that is positive, no matter how weak the overall project is, to let the person know that you are on their side.
What are the problems surrounding art criticism, as you see them?
Since very few authors of classical art criticism can make a living from their reports, many are forced to act as curators, write catalog texts or advise collectors at the same time. Conversely, curators have gradually taken on the role of art critics, interlocutors and advisors to artists, and this with a clearly subjective attitude.
With this intermingling of interests, it is often no longer possible to create the distance that is necessary to write critical texts.
Art needs evaluation, debate, controversial debate, it needs the frictional warmth of criticism.
Court writing also results from this modern dilemma and thus promotes an understanding of art motivated by market strategy.
The big question is how to get it back to the point and have recipients or a public that not only reads fast food interviews, but also interviews that you want to read beyond the next day.

How do you think, we can avoid the misunderstanding of criticism as a self judgmental practice, and to see it more as a fruitful, exploratory and descriptive thing?
Obviously this is the most difficult question for me. Maybe because I know it is sometimes not easy to deal with critical writings. So what can I suggest?
I have already mentioned linguistic scope and ethical approaches for those who formulate criticism.
We must all play an active role in this type of communication and should not feel marginalized or disappear.
So what we can do, we can practice reading reviews to better understand their parameters. To understand how criticism works, how differently it is formulated and what kind of discussions result from it. Aftershocks are often the best thing about criticism. I sometimes form my final opinion on an article by reading them as well. You can become part of the debate this way, instead of feeling faint. Everything has a for and against, nothing is final.
Then, of course, dealing with criticism has a lot to do with ourselves. So it is always a discussion not only of the written word, but also of our personality. I think it is valuable to include this aspect in your thinking. Take a step back and get to know the path better. See criticism as an opportunity. „Der Weg ist das Ziel“- „The journey is the reward“.

Please share with us your favorite critical thinkers and some of the leading publications driving debate about contemporary jewellery in your country? What do you appreciate about them?
Honestly, there are only a few publications in the country that I live in that deal exclusively with contemporary jewellery. But I don't think Japan is an isolated case. Publications devoted exclusively to contemporary jewellery are still very rare worldwide. So I get most of the publications on jewellery that interest me from Germany or abroad.
I personally like it when different disciplines mix and make interesting contributions. This can create or uncover new content. This preference is not surprising if you know my work.

There is an important Japanese DIY publisher; Nakako Hayashi, who had a huge influence on me with her magazine "here & there" from the very beginning of my career. Hayashi mainly writes about fashion from a very subtle and personal perspective. She publishes the magazine once a year, featuring not only fashion designers also photographers, artists or creators from other fields, all in order to revive the aura fading from the clothes that people wear.
In addition, she writes for other magazines like Purple or Ryuko Tsushin and also published a book for an exhibition she curated. Although Hayashi almost never writes about jewellery, her style and approach is impressive and exemplary for me. The consistency with which she is looking for a different, personal way of interpreting fashion encourages me, again and again, to go my own way in the field of jewellery. Obviously, besides the individuality of jewellery, it is also about a very individual interpretation of it.
When it comes to my favorite critical jewellery writers in Japan, my closest colleagues are my favorites. The Japanese author Makiko Akiyama, who devotes her writing almost exclusively to jewellery, is constantly developing her critical eye. Besides enjoying her essays, I often meet up with her for critical discussions. She is a keen listener and commentator and has also written for Schmuck2.
Makiko Akiyama has taken on something similar to an ambassador-like role in the theoretical Japanese jewellery scene. I wish this scene would grow a bit and could branch out a bit more. Then diverse (jewellery) flowers could also bloom.

Anything else you want us to know?
I would like to thank you for this opportunity to reflect intensely on my own idea of criticism! During the writing of this, I found the cultural differences particularly interesting and I think it is worthwhile taking a closer look at such issues in the future. Reflecting and reviewing our own standards always offers the chance of renewal. I like to turn things upside down.

About the Interviewee

Susan Pietzsch is a German artist whose work focuses on a complex examination of the contemporary concept of jewellery. After being trained as a gold- and silversmith and earning a degree in jewellery design, she furthered her development through residencies and study visits in France, India, the Netherlands and the US. Pietzsch pursues a wide-ranging artistic practice that includes not only her solo work but also her long-term activity under the name of Schmuck2, which encompasses a wide scope of comprehensive work on projects reflecting contemporary concepts of jewellery. Pietzsch’s work has been showcased within major exhibitions in the field of jewellery art worldwide. She has lectured at various institutes including the International Summer Academy of Fine Arts in Salzburg/Ö, the Stedelijk Museum’s-Hertogenbosch/ NL and the Röhsska Museum in Göteborg/ SE. Pietzsch initiated projects for mima (Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art/ UK), the Gerrit Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam/ NL and the Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum/ JP, among others. The artist lives in Germany and Japan.

About the author

Carolin Denter completed her training as Goldsmith at Master School for Craftsmen in Kaiserslautern in 2013. From 2015 to 2016 she made an Internship as Content Manager at Klimt02 in Barcelona. In 2017 she graduated as Bachelor of Fine Arts in Gemstone and Jewellery at the University of Applied Science Trier, Campus Idar-Oberstein. After her graduation, she worked as Assistance at Campus Idar-Oberstein in the Gemstone and Jewellery Departement till the end of 2019. Since 2020 she is Digital Account Manager at Klimt02.