Beware the Jabberwocky!
Did you happen to read the article appearing on the front page of The Week in Review section, in the Sunday, October 23, 1994, edition of the New York Times? The article, which was. entitled “The Jabberwocky of Art Criticism,” serves as a warning to art educators everywhere — beware of falling into the trap of art-babble when discussing art criticism.
The article bemoaned the loss of intelligent and intelligible art criticism appearing in professional journals. It could just as well have been describing the approach taken by some curators and educators who surround art in a defensive layer of verbiage and mysticism.
“Has art criticism sunk into paralysis?” the article asks. Consider these snippets quoted from leading art publications:
“Younger artists like David Row and Shirley Kaneda have also begun to investigate the possibilities of painting in a post-Kantian context, without giving up their works’ traditional epistemological character in favor of a verbal model of production.” (International Flash Art, Summer 1994.)
“Perhaps we’ve seen too many sculptures dealing with the human body in the last few years, or perhaps the impressive artisanry (by expert tailors) overwhelmed the metaphoric possibilities of the work, or perhaps the metaphor itself (weight and context) was simply too obvious.” (Art in America, Sept. 1994.)
“Federle’s grouping of works also suggests a kind of epigenesis of abstraction: each stage offers a greater, more exacting epiphany of the idea of abstraction as such and the essential consciousness — a consciousness that can recognize and deal with essences (in a Husserhan sense) — than the preceding one.” (Artforum, September 1994.)
A Good Idea is Worth Conveying
One of our more recent subscribers. The Natural History Museum in London, England, has an excellent physical arrangement for accommodating student tours. The museum devotes a special entrance and room entirely for school groups. The Len Moore room is where teachers and their students are checked in. Students are provided with spaces to deposit their coats, lunches, and other belongings, and where they can be divided into smaller, touring groups before entering the museum’s galleries. The room even has benches and tables, where children on an extended field trip can eat, and where rules of museum behavior can be explained or reinforced.
The Len Moore room allows youngsters to unwind from the excitement of their bus trip without distracting other museum visitors. The room is cheerily decorated with the letters of children who wrote to the museum following their visit, as well as with docent teaching resources such as specimens, photographs, and diagrams.
(A Cautionary Tale)
by Clare Wiser
A decent docent doesn’t doze But stays alertly on his toes Praising art in all its splendor Public service thus to render.
In dissent docents daresn’t deal While others tell them how they feel They play a proper patient part When hearing “Is this really art?”
Many things a docent doesn’t Some she could but most she mustn’t Might such art-official* virtue Bring success but also hurt you?
Clare Wiser is a professor of mathematics at Washington State U. in Pullman. WA. He also is a docent at the University’s Museum of Art. The first two lines of his poem were borrowed from the poet David McCord.
Mysticism — “over-explaining what could otherwise be understood.”
The Theory of Relativity
When asked to explain his theory of relativity, Albert Einstein reportedly said,”When you talk with a pretty girl for two hours it feels like two seconds; when you sit on a hot stove for two seconds it feels like two hours. That’s relativity!”
“For Your Consideration,” The Docent Educator 4.3 (Spring 1995): 11.