Should an artist comment on another artist’s work?

At Daily Review we think so, which is why we are proud to publish the writing of John Kelly whose essays on art and the machinations of the art world saw him nominated for the inaugural Walkley Award for Excellence in Arts Journalism this year.

But not everyone agrees. Gareth Sansom, the artist whose work — now showing at the National Gallery of Victoria in a major retrospective — was the subject of critique by Kelly on Sunday in Daily Review, commented:

“Naturally I have views about your work, especially your last two exhibitions in Melbourne, but I am inclined to keep them to myself, as I hold apparently an old fashioned view that artists shouldn’t bitch about fellow artists,” Sansom wrote of Kelly.

To read Kelly’s original article and the subsequent and spirited comment thread between the two artists, click here.

6 responses to “Should an artist comment on another artist’s work?

  1. Apologies for adding more but this issue of artists somehow having to be seen and not heard is symptomatic of what Australian Art has become. I also have been told to Shut Up and that “artists shouldn’t criticise artists”.

    What this shows us is just how bad the “professionalization” of art has become. ONLY writers and critics can criticise artists. I had one Contemporary Art Space Director tell me that there was a delineation of labor, he did the writing and contextualisation and I made the pictures! Actually this person got so upset with me that he wrote a homophobic and personalised attack on me and my work in what was to be a published catalogue on my work compared to another (Michael Zavros). Basically this “Gatekeeper” wanted to say to me, the artist: “you will accept whatever I throw at you because you want this printed catalogue”. It was an ugly show of power that all the Govt Employed Art People do. I refused his catalogue and then he got upset at all the time he wasted! Of course I refused him the use of my images, the ONLY power an artist has now.

    I come from the 80s where artists had much more power as the struggles of the 60s and 70s were still delivering greater autonomy to artists. Mind you the Babayboomers were now in control and MANY of them promptly forgot individual rights once they were in Power. It often was really ugly in Australia.

    Now all these arty kids (usually private school types) have paid to go to Uni and do Museum Studies and now THEY want there say. AND once again artists are reduced to mere decorators for Government! Sad BUT true.

  2. Oh Gareth is a shit-stirrer from way back! First time I met he had to have some sort of “go” at me. Gareth will survive…and very happily too. I think John Kelly wrote a very good piece, the string of continuous acquisitions does look like a form of nepotism on face value. AND nepotism is a form of corruption.

    BUT who on earth is surprised by this?! Well actually a very young me beginning would be VERY surprised and I so sadly wish I knew THEN what I do NOW! It would have saved a lot of angst and unhappiness for me personally. You see I was young and naive and thought “art” people were nice…HA!

    That is why I think my calling people out now is the best thing I can contribute to Australian Art. I bet you the artists who scoop up all these newbies into their courses so as to keep their cushy jobs going DON’T let on what a shit show these kids will most probably endure. No siree! It’ll all be art theory;use your identity if its exotic and what the Government Arts want;make the usual “art product”; get ahead a bit so the artist/ lecturer can look good. I KNOW I have done a bit of seasonal teaching and assessing. God at Syd College one Dept was so upset because I wasn’t giving all their students the highest marks. They were really BAD about it…again Nepotism.

    And look at which artists get big shows and are always in Biennials and you will see a lot of them are heads of Art Departments or teach etc. Its all a sham really. And I know because I know all these people and after 30+ years its no fun watching the Nepotism flow!

    Really we don’t have enough BITCHING!! If Art means anything you have to KICK AGAINST THE PRICKS as Nick cave might say!

  3. There are a couple of interesting things that emerge in the exchange following John Kelly’s review of Gareth Sansom’s NGV exhibition. On the one hand, there’s the suggestion on Sansom’s part that artists ought not also be critics. This is, of course, utter nonsense, and flies in the face of the very long history of artists also writing about art. The flip side of this, is the implication that the piece was originally written as some sort of ‘pay back’ by John Kelly for not getting into the VCA back in the 1980s, that it is a ‘bitch’ based on some sort of professional jealousy. Of course, the decision about who does or does not get into a particular art college (and then how well they do while enrolled) depends very much on the artists who teach there. What this suggests is that it is artists who teach in art colleges who are the first institutional ‘gate keepers’. The role art colleges play in this process is even more opaque than the collecting decisions made by state galleries – we can only hope that Gareth Sansom’s anecdote concerning the first NGV purchase of his work in no way reflects the current acquisition policy. The irony, of course, is that visual arts critics really are not the seat of power when it comes to selecting the First XI – that falls first to the artists teaching in the colleges (who select those who’ll get into the ‘junior squad’) and then the curators and others in the major institutions who select what gets collected. Art criticism, well, its role is to talk about the match, and of course, to complain about the selection when someone regularly gets belted around the field, or out for a duck. When I first started reading this piece I thought all that cricketing chatter was a clever link to John Kelly’s own early work.

  4. In music, the answer might depend on whether it’s composition or performance which is being assessed.

    Composition (like poetry) is very much the expression of the personality of the creator and it depends on who she/he is, or what she/he believes that her/his ears can express about that personal essence; or about aspects of the world around us; or what music is or might be. Naturally, every real composer will have different answers/creative responses to those challenges. Whether, therefore, she/he can recognise what is “legitimate” — or technically assured — in the work of someone of quite different personality and values (artistic and moral) is a challenge for the creative artist. Someone who has heard a great deal of music (new and old), who is sensitive to the artform and is open-minded might be able to express those judgements better or differently.

    With performance, one pianist (say) or singer, who is familiar with a particular piece, might be able to say whether the rhythm is wayward, the notes are accurately achieved or the pitch is correct and true; and, further, might do all of this better than someone with quite another performing skill (or with very little). With the “interpretation — as opposed to those technical questions — we might move closer to the earlier circumstance (i.e. that of one composer judging the work of another: with the “personal” having to be taken to account (and the extent that is possible).

    The other important question — as opposed to knowledge, performance capacity and so on, is the critic’s skill as a writer. It is one thing to have responses and ideas; it is quite another to be able to express them with clarity, elegance, wit and insight in a fashion that someone who is not a composer or a performer can understand, respond to and learn from. If a performer or a composer really had THOSE skills, then she/he might choose, instead, to be a writer. They are, however, quite different abilities. It depends to a degree upon the audience being addressed: a classroom or an examination is — in other words — an entirely different circumstance from a newspaper or a book. Each has its place.

  5. Totally agree… and thanks for being the forum for a healthy squabble. Sansom getting all hissy and calling a measured opinion bitching reinforces Kelly’s perspective. Great art doesn’t swim between the flags of polite society.

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