I have recently made two visits to a solo exhibition of a celebrated textile artist – one whom I have admired for many years and whose work I have loved. But on seeing the show my anticipated delight was abruptly turned to disappointment and doubt.
In this post I want to discuss my response and ask questions of others out there rather than to talk specifically about the work in question. I want to think out loud about how we form our critical responses to work. I want to find out how others deal with instant instinctive reactions, quietly considered judgements, and gradually – or even dramatically evolving opinions.
As I say, the artist is one whose work I have responded to positively for a long time, and that admiration has persisted throughout my own education within the field. I understand so much more about technique on many levels now, but this work has remained up there as excellent and inspiring. I would place the artist up amongst the special few.
This exhibition contains one large piece in the familiar style, but also many illustrating a new approach. I found those to be ‘too easy’, taking advantage of technique perhaps to speed up completion. I found that they appeared deliberately commercial – meaning made to make more product from a ‘name’ – rather than speaking with an integrity of their own. I find that they are not good work – and by that I mean so much more than just that I did not like them.
I was downcast and confused. Because these days I am in a precarious emotional state personally I wondered whether my judgement had gone haywire. Was I dismissing these works because they seemed rough, and different? Was I unwilling to accept that the artist’s approach had changed? Should an artist not be entitled to take advantage of esteem and ‘churn out’ a few lesser pieces (if they are indeed generally accepted as lesser) in order to make a living?
I felt that here was an area for further pondering. I can make use of my few free hours to make the short journey to visit the show again and again to examine and re-examine my reactions. On my second visit I noticed that all the smaller pieces I find attractive -‘acceptable’! – have been sold, but those which I find unresolved and unsatisfactory still unsold. But is that just good old convention at work? Is that simply the market asking for more of what it already has deemed acceptable – and thus makes it so difficult for anyone with a well defined style of work to change in any way?
I don’t think that I am stuck in my opinions, but then perhaps I wouldn’t. I would like to read what others think about this general principle of an approach to work, and how one gauges whether a work is good even if one doesn’t like it – or obversely judges that a work is slight even if one likes it tremendously. Do changing tastes affect the integral quality of work?