Walter Miranda
Plastic Artist

Criticizing the critic  

Published in D.O. Leitura (cultural newspaper of Oficial the State Press) in December/1986

Every week we read in newspapers and magazines critics on plastic arts. Usually, the texts are short and superficial, disappointing many readers, due lack of space given by the newspaper or due the incapacity of who writes them, or, who knows, for other reasons. 

However, I think that the critic, nevertheless, is in privileged situation before the plastic artist, in this case mere passive agent, because from the high of his tribune he points at this or that artist eulogizing or destroying his effort and work, as if he (critic) had the gift of the infinite knowledge on the tip of his pen or he was the owner of the truth. That is when he is interested in the work of some artist who, in this case, according to the situation, should consider himself a "privileged", not for the critic itself but for the mention of his work. 

This situation becomes worse when the artist tries to defend his work answering to the critics and he does not find opportunity to do that, due inaccessibility, lack of space and, even, due the lack of will (from who criticizes) in hearing him, in an attitude that demonstrates clear prepotency. 

Sometimes, some argues that the work should speak for itself and that if it does not arrest the observer's attention it is because it does not transmit any sensation and then the work does not have artistic value since it did not reach its objective. That means nothing more than to simplify a complex relationship using own conveniences, because not always the observer (including the critic) is at the same level of the work he watches. I could mention several artists that did not have in life their works recognized by the public and by the critic, but after their death and in subsequent time they were fairly recovered for the history, being respected today in many countries, when not in all over the world. 

As, in my opinion, one of the functions of the critic (if not the unique) is to establish if the artist has reached or not his intention, as much technically as intellectually, it is necessary that the artist intermediates the relationship work versus critic, explaining his intentions and positions (specially if the work has extremely intellectual nature), so that the critic can intermediate appropriately the relationship works versus public. In this sense, I wonder: is it possible to analyze a work of art in an appropriate way using only our cultural and artistic concepts without knowing the author's creative process before? I do not believe.

So, I think that doing a critic without partiality, tendentiousness, radicalism or fussiness, it is necessary to exist contacts between the critic and the artist, in order to place the artist and his work in the current cultural and artistic context, knowing the whole situation, in other words, knowing perfectly the artist's proposals, since the art is not made by dogmas and unalterable rules to be so simply analyzed and decoded, as it has been happening lately. 

Some can say that this is impossible to do due the problems of practical order that can impede such contacts. However, I think that if we want to do something seriously and with high quality level, in any professional field, it is necessary a wide planning that can solve, in a way at least appropriated, all the problems that can occur. Obviously, this principle should also be used in the critic to obtain satisfactory results, because we are working with something that demands a lot of responsibility of those involved, namely, the Culture; specially because, when the accomplishment is to criticize the work of consecrated artists the critics usually move themselves until the artists, facing all the "difficulties", without problems. 

Of course an inadequate critic will not impede the development of an authentic artist's career (even beginner), but probably can harm it during some time in its normal course, moving him away from the exhibitions spaces in the local cultural circle. In this way, we should take into account the paradox that the artist spends weeks or months executing their works, reaching a relatively small public (visitors of galleries or exhibition rooms), while the critic with the work of some hours reaches thousands of readers, influencing them in a certain way, since they are in a situation simply receptive, because they do not have contact with the source of the reading but just with the intermediate. So, because of this critic's large influence they should consult the artist. 

I am not saying that the critics should just eulogize the artists and their works, or to pamper them as if they were demigods, because I know about artist's existence so unprepared that their works do not deserve larger attention due to the lack of creativity, talent, etc., but that is necessary to increase more seriousness to the exercise of the critic in order to acquire larger respect in the cultural artistic way. Evidently this does not just depend on the critics, but also of the newspapers that hire them, because in the way like they have been requested now, even with the best intentions, the critics won't get to elevate the pattern of their work. 

The newspapers should not hire critics just to fill out spaces in their columns of the leisure pages, as if art were just this. They should also be aware that their role in the society, as an information and news publisher institution, etc., has the highest relevance and, for quite so, of the highest responsibility.

Returning to the critics, it is also necessary to say that, even if some of them have great capacity, they are not who define the artistic "isms", since the appearance of these should happen naturally through the work of who creates, develops, executes and exposes works of art, namely: the artist. I say this because when reading the texts of some critics I am under the impression that there is a lot of pretension by their part, when they leave "in the air" certain determinations that the artists should proceed. 

This seems to me like a corruption on the exercise of the critic, because I think that the critic has the great function of doing a meticulous analysis of all the values that involve a work of art or a group (exhibition) of works and of the intellectual phase which the artist crosses, without exercising some kind of influence. But, if the work and the artist do not convince, nevertheless, the time used to visit the studio and consultations to the artist will not  be in vain, because it will always remain the lived experience, and the critic still will have more subsidies to accomplish a hard and deep critic (in the whole sense of the word), instead trying to decipher the messages or implicit proposals in the work of art without a consultation to its creator. The life shows us that most of the time we cannot make a meticulous and coherent analysis of an object at a big distance, even if a telephoto lens is possessed approximating its image, because, sometimes, it is not enough to see its form to obtain correct conclusions, being necessary to weigh it, to measure it, etc. If this happens with simple objects, imagine with the analysis of a work of art that involves complex concepts and multiple values. 

Many can disagree of my thought, for being simplistic, and say that the critic's function is to judge the work of art in itself, without any contact with the artist, avoiding personal involvement, what could impede the accomplishment of a fair and exempt critic. I say, however, that nobody judges correctly without knowing before all the details and, in that case, for a total knowledge, I insist again, it is necessary to have a contact with the author of the work so that the critic will be in a perfect position front to the artist and his production. And the critic who, through the contacts, wrap up himself, will simply be signing a certificate of incapacity, because he will be proving that he does not have conditions of maintaining a strictly professional relationship and to have impartial decisions. 

Another point to mention is the lack of historical vision of most of the critics regarding the artists that are beginning their career. Most of the time, the works of them are not taken into account due to their lack of influence or status, in the professional mean. In this sense, many young artists of promising future, do not obtain the minimum possible space to publish their work or to discuss it and, consequently, many artistic works of excellent quality are relegated at random (when not the own artistic career) by the lack of vision, sensibility or interest of the critic. 

Concerning the artist's opportunity, as much beginner as experienced, to answer to the critic exposing his opinions about the published critic, I think that the newspaper should, whenever reasonable and necessary, give him space (but not to take him in a simple section of letters) to answer, creating a kind of dialogue between both, what would be salutary and positive, improving the performance of the newspaper so much for the reader as for the artistic mean, that through the contrary arguments could form their own opinion based in more complete data, mainly if they compare the arguments with the works, reason of the noise. Even the very deliberate critic can transmit ideas completely different from the originals, and the artist could explain their intentions and, in this case, the newspaper would accomplish its own function, increasing its suitability before the public. 

Of course that, in the artists' manifestation will appear the angered and the covered with reason. In the first case, through the own argument and through the observation of the works, the reader clearly will see the technical incapacity, the lack of humility and the artist's incoherence. But, even so, he should have the right of replying creating a relationship of equality between the critic and the artist, eliminating in that way the privileged position of the critic. In the second case, there will be just the accomplishment of the justice. 

There will also be artists that will not expose any opinion because they do not pay attention to the critic or because they are producing new works, having no time for such, or for other reasons. But those will be cases apart. The important is the existence of a true democratic exercise, also in the arts, which by itself is extremely positive.

Finally, it is necessary to clear that, as an artist who I am, whenever I had my works mentioned by critics in newspapers, was in a favorable way, what leaves me exempt of the anger and partiality to write these lines, and, with these comments I do not have the intention of finishing such a complex subject, but, to contribute modestly for its discussion, because who knows, in that way I will be collaborating for its enrichment, what can turn, one day, the exercise of the critic fairest, capable and coherent concerning its specific functions: to analyze, to decode and to comment on works of art, in this case plastic, exhibited to the public, turning them accessible so that the public can understand better the function of the Arts in the cultural, social, and historical context. 



Walter Miranda   

Walter Miranda
Ateliê Oficina FWM de Artes
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