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It's Not Possible to Teach Art. It's Only Possible to Create Conditions for Getting the Sufficient Feedback. Interview with Kadri Mälk

Interview  /  CriticalThinking   CarolinDenter   KadriMälk
Published: 21.02.2021
Kadri Mälk photographed by Tanel Veenre. Kadri Mälk photographed by Tanel Veenre.
Author:
Carolin Denter
Edited by:
Klimt02
Edited at:
Barcelona
Edited on:
2021
.

© By the author. Read Klimt02.net Copyright.

Intro
From the series of 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 more people from the contemporary jewellery scene to answer questions about censorship, morality and the value of criticism.

In this sixteenth interview of our new series about critique, we talk with Kadri Mälk,
Estonian artist, jewelry designer and professor at the Estonian Academy of Arts since 1996.
 
Since 1996 you have been a Professor at the Estonian Academy of Arts in the Jewellery department. Please give us an insight into your approach on how to deal with criticism, being critical and critiqued. What is your personal understanding of these three terms?  
Indeed, criticism has several levels for me as an artist and a supervisor at the academy. Starting from the latter one: evaluation and assessment in art, grading in art in general is a suspicious activity in my eyes.  Can we avoid it as teachers, as supervisors? You can’t measure unmeasurable. Beauty and rarity cannot be subjected to measurement.
Informal conversations are of much more importance, both in sense of self-perception as well as in outcome and goals. Meticulously analyzing an art piece may destroy something really fragile both in the art piece as well in the artist.   
The famous slogan (I suppose it came from Otto Künzli) I make, you decide is completely true. A good book might be often wiser than the author. The reader, the viewer, the audience decides.
From a rational point of view, jewellery is totally pointless, just an expense. Just like monuments, precious stones. The rational world is not going to collapse if we did not have jewellery. But we nevertheless need it. Its radiance changes our mood.


How did you experience change in the world of contemporary jewellery and the education system in the past decade? Do you see any changes in qualities and/or the abilities to be criticised?
There are enormous changes that I notice. Quite a lot depends on personalities, the teachers, I mean. My own teacher, professor Kuldkepp was a phenomenon. Her worst assessment was “mediocracy”. The work could be so bad that it could be almost interesting, it happened. But mediocracy she did not bear it.
Nowadays we should be politically correct with the students, in talk and walk. Otherwise, you could traumatize the student. But in this case, art life after the studies will traumatize him/her instead. And this jacket is already much harder to bear and wear. Because you should already be professional, not anymore the student. No mistakes are allowed anymore. So in my eyes, it’s justified to be honest, even severe when needed while teaching... Growing is always painful, in nature as well as in the human soul, the earlier it happens the better.
Not every university adjusts the political correctness to the studies as I’ve seen while teaching around the world. I know professors (prof. Ruudt Peters, for instance) who shout and whisper and might be offensive to the students until their bitter tears. And others who hardly say anything disturbing. But in the first case, you hear later the names and see the bright work of the students. From the latter case, nobody knows the students of the “correct” teachers. This is what we can call mediocracy. Good enough but not excellent.


 
  • Growing is always painful, in nature as well as in human soul the earlier it happens the better. Not every university adjusts the political correctness to the studies as I’ve seen while teaching around the world.



"Art criticism is massively produced and massively ignored, just as art itself", says Elkins James in his Book "What happened to art criticism?". One of the main causes of this situation might be the so-called "academization" of critical thinking. Considering that, what institutional changes would you like to induce?  
You should not take it that gravely. Outcomes and goals are somehow different. The outcome is always unexpected, can surprise you. The goal is planned, sometimes even meticulously planned and prescribed in our “academized” travesty. This is not art anymore. This is an industry.


Critical thinking is highly valued but difficult to teach effectively. What do you think, how is it best taught?
I don't feel any responsibility for setting standards in taste or ideals, Robert Baines has said once. Actually, I feel the same. You have to find your critical path yourself. It’s not possible to teach art. It’s only possible to create conditions for getting sufficient feedback.   
Conceptual thinking is one way to save the situation. Conceptualizing is our every-day remedy. Sometimes we forget to take the pill... Barbara Schmidt has pointed out: Conceptualizing and making things is the same. Artists need the theory and critical reflection to sharpen their minds and expressions. I should add that the artists need even more in order to research you should first analyse and argument, even only for yourself. When you believe in it yourself, and believe in it even the next morning, so be brave. Go on. Be consistent.
Meaning and making are inseparable.


 
  • The human self is mostly imperfect. So, an almost invisible imperfection can make the piece! Like in wabi-sabi wisdom for a perfectly imperfect life.



You‘ve spent a lot of time investigating contemporary jewellery, both as Jeweller and as Professor. What criteria do you use in judging art?
When we always do the same what we have done before, we'll always get the same what we have received before. Just a universal rule. But in art, you always expect something new. Unpredictive. Synchronicity is welcome when you are in sync with the world around you. But pre-synchronicity is even more challenging. You can see it, you can perceive it but you can’t explain or understand it. Or can't explain YET.  
You should use your well-trained intuition, your belief, and trust. It works. Look beyond the obvious. Essential things cannot be altered. Who is able to see, will see.
The human self is mostly imperfect. So, an almost invisible imperfection can make the piece! Like in wabi-sabi wisdom for a perfectly imperfect life.


Looking at the history of art criticism, we witness a constant change in the field. From the archaic to a more admiring observer, who looks at the work and contextualises it. How do you position yourself within this archetypical spectrum?
Contextualization and innovation are highly appreciated qualities in our contemporary art jewellery field. Art history, art critics, cultural literacy in general. Secret passwords. But they are double-edged swords. First, you need profound knowledge about what has been done before (good school, excellent teachers!). And thereafter you should have the ability to erase it all from your head. To give yourself a carte blanche to start as an innocent Mowgli. And then it comes like Vulcanus.


 
  • There is great intimacy between the maker of the object and the object he makes, and this intimacy is felt once again when another person’s hand touches the object.



There are many different ideas on how the contemporary jewelry 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 can be in the position of being a critic. What are your thoughts on this, where do you see opportunities, and where are dead ends? 
It’s not serendipitous to say: talk is cheap because supply exceeds demands.
Still, there are quite some persons whose critical texts should be read more than twice. From the international contemporary art field: Una Meistere from Arterritory, Riga, Liesbeth den Besten, a free-lancer from Amsterdam, many others. Tanel Veenre from my own surrounding. Some more unexpected persons in our “new normality”.
There is great intimacy between the maker of the object and the object he makes, and this intimacy is felt once again when another person’s hand touches the object. Contact magic, sympathetic magic. Simply the law of personal contact, personal touch. So, be patient, think twice. And then say it aloud.


As stated in our previous interviews, there is critique involved in the process of making, but it is not a critique of oneself as a maker. It lies in the act of transforming a material by envisioning an alternative. How do you think we can strengthen a form of criticism which supports the process of integrating jewelry into a bigger area, such as craft, art, environment (…), and what are the questions we should deal with?
The material always has resistance. We should deal with it with love. Also in an intellectual sense. Love for cultural literacy, love for a seed of an obsessive idea, not always up-to-date from the first glance. Love to the heritage. The bigger area appears when you look around with eyes closed wide. Significant things occur under the surface. The surface holds little interest to me.


 
  • Pareto principle is valid also in art education and critique: you spend 80% of your time and energy on the students who show less potential trying to do your best to lift them up. And 20% energy to the students who deserve more time to analyze their work as they need it more.



How do you think we can avoid the misunderstanding of criticism as a self-judgmental practice, and see it more as a fruitful, exploratory, and descriptive thing?
Once when Gijs Bakker visited our academy for a lecture, and after he had concluded, a question rouse from the audience, a pretty simple-minded one: how to get good critique and fly high? And Gijs responded accordingly and comprehensively: Just be famous. The audience was paralyzed.
But how to get famous? Consciously or subconsciously, e.g. it just happens? The path up to the mountains is not always very smooth and bloodless. Good intuition is needed and sharp critique on the right moment as well. With blood, sweat, and tears it comes. The things most fragile may make you more strong.
Pareto principle is valid also in art education and critique: you spend 80% of your time and energy on the students who show less potential trying to do your best to lift them up. And 20% energy to the students who deserve more time to analyze their work as they need it more.


Peter Deckers said critics are a link in the jewelry 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?
I feel myself pretty tolerant on large scale. Wait and be patient. There are many wannabe’s swimming around in art and you recognize their goals but... you are not the one to charge. You are not God, just a professor.  
But on small scale, what concerns my students, for instance, I may be quite straightforward, demanding, and sharp, especially when I see that more might be coming, much is still hidden. Reveal it! Don’t be afraid to be different! When you have decided to become an artist you have to admit that you can easily make a fool out of yourself. Don’t be afraid of it! Anyone who tries to achieve the unattainable risks his life and his destiny.


 
  • Censorship starts and ends in between your heart, hands, and brain, the holy trinity.



What are the leading publications and critical thinkers driving the debate about contemporary jewelry in your country? Please explain to us briefly what you appreciate about them.
Some persons mesmerized my glance and my mind for a long time; already mentioned Tanel Veenre and Una Meistere/Riga. From Estonia the art historians Tamara Luuk, Krista Kodres, and Heie Treier, from the younger generation Urmas Lüüs. And luckily we have publications specially dedicated to arts and culture.
And we all have the 5 senses, the gateways to temptation.
There sounds to be some magnetic animism out there. The same magnetic animism and fascination – fascinare! – is noticed in the eyes of art critics. We may feel there everything: attraction, temptation, love, and fear. 
Fascination has aphrodisiacal qualities. You can feel it with your seventh sense.
 
Where does censorship start for you?
We live in a world of constant oversupply, in a fast world. Too much singing and too few pauses. We should stop and catch our breath. Figuratively speaking we won’t reach the current moment by rushing to get here, but quite the opposite by stopping. Paradoxically, all the important information is in the stopping, in the pauses, in the catching of our breath, in the silence. It is there that we begin to think, feel and comprehend. We live in a say-it-quickly-and then-let’s-move-on world. But every thought is richer than you can express in two sentences. Everything needs engagement. Censorship starts and ends in between your heart, hands, and brain, the holy trinity.

 

About the Interviewee

Kadri Mälk (1958, Tallinn, Estonia) is an Estonian artist and jewelry designer. Mälk began her studies at the Tartu Art School in 1977 and graduated from the Estonian Academy of Arts in 1986, studying under professor Leili Kuldkepp. Between 1986 and 1993 Mälk worked as a freelance artist. In 1993 she enrolled at the Lahti Design Institute in Finland, studying gemmology under the direction of Esko Timonen, and completed her studies at Bernd Munsteiner's lapidary studio in Germany. Mälk has been assigned to the Estonian Academy of Arts since 1989 and has been a professor in the jewelry department at the school since 1996. Mälk has had both solo and group exhibitions throughout the world. Her jewelry designs have been displayed in various museums and exhibitions in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Germany, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, U.S., Korea, Russia, Slovakia, France, Japan, England, Scotland, Sweden, Spain, and Norway.

About the author


Carolin Denter
completed her training as Goldsmith at Master School for Craftsmen in Kaiserslautern in 2013. 2015 she made an Internship 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.
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