Tag Archives: critique

The Joy of Critique


One of my favorite aspects of being in an MFA program was the intense, expansive, intellectual dialogue I had with my peers–the sense of being refined and targeted, while yet embracing a try-anything, consider-everything philosophy. Nothing was ridiculous. We vetted wrong-way turns, but followed wild-eyed leads–referencing French philosophers alongside MTV, McDonald’s, art theorists, commercials, physics and cat videos. The rich, colorful field of human cultural existence was ripe for analysis and re-context.

Upon graduation, it stopped.

Or, rather, the requirement to attend a specific critique space on a given day, stopped.

We moved into new phases. Intellectual discussion no longer fell easily into the moment, ready to tumble into a circle of metal folding chairs, or float above-head in a coffee house or bar. The critique space became elusive, as desirous a soul mate (possibly just as mythical). The critique itself, the stuff of legends, gradually fading, as all memories do, into a milieu of crystallized details and airbrushed embellishments…

So I went on the hunt.


Because many of us lived far from our program, we inevitably (and logically) returned to our pre-MFA spaces. Separated. Getting minds together locally has been more of a challenge, though not impossible, and my approach to the critique has turned into a process unto itself. I’ve been dogged about pursuing it–a great hunter of fruitful moments. Pursuer of intelligent feedback.

It’s become a process of hunting, gathering in itself… a system of savoring each precious exchange, of finding and reaping the right connections.


“He Found Nothing,” 2016. Ren Adams. Experimental photography (manual and digital glitch). 9-piece installation.

Thus, I rounded up selected peers and colleagues. It was a lot of work to arrange, but the payoff was ultimately worth it. And I’ll keep pursuing these exchanges in the future.

Here are few highlights from their analysis of Whitespace-Bluespace – Televisual Memory and the Implied Catastrophe:

  • The videos are powerful without sound, as they leave the viewer mired in uncertainty; they leave more to analysis and inference than the Cascade videos did. They work effectively with the ambiguous content present in the stills.
  • There is a tension between specificity and anonymity, detail and abstraction, that suspends the viewer in an indeterminate space, like the territory of memory (itself transient, unstable) and the self-changing landscape of trauma; the place between action and inaction.
  • Different viewers were able to connect dots differently, some making good use of their storytelling minds to construct a system of events that seemed plausible. Some felt they simply *must* make sense of the vignettes they encountered–an ultimately pleasurable, if obsessive, endeavor.
  • Most viewers found themselves hunting (enjoyably) for the resolution to the implied events. Others enjoyed being mired in the confusion, knowing something had happened and was going to happen soon–but finding themselves looked into a certain interpretive pause within the frame.
  • Several viewers felt the desire to rearrange the image-cells both physically and digitally. What happens when the viewer is allowed to participate in the suggestion of before and after? How does it change the viewer’s engagement to the characters, their moments, the potentials? Can the images be mounted on physical surfaces that allow user participation?
  • The multimedia environment allowed viewers to access the content from various angles, gaining insight into the total sequence of implied catastrophes by combining clues like puzzle pieces.
  • Individual image-moments are powerful, fully present, often disturbing. The images are engaging and speak to both to television and art history.
  • Some individuals preferred the heavier abstraction, others found the newly formed characters more compelling. Most indicated they found the interaction (and tension) between specificity and abstraction to be a fertile, fascinating and important space.
  • Good use of digital glitch proved very effective for the viewer (as in The Extended Agony of Finding Out…). Glitch becomes a tool capable of obfuscation as easily as it emphasizes that which is already painfully clear.
  • The grids are very effective. They allow both linear and sampled viewing–viewers can choose to read them cell-by-cell, or bounce from one moment to the next, dancing within the grid shape. The grids themselves suggest television screens.
  • The silent videos pick up the “soundtrack” of ambient noise around them. During the exhibition opening, my colleague Nancy Meyer suggested the melancholy music performed by Megan meshed perfectly with the videos.
  • There is a sense of voyeurism that’s unsettling, perfectly in step with the obsessive excavation. We enter a space, especially in the installed version, where we’ve run across material we’re not sure we are allowed to see. We view, consume and analyze moments that seem private, sneaky, perverse in a sense. Not unlike the voyeuristic consumption of television itself.
  • Primacy and an odd lack of privacy abound.
  • The images are soft, painterly. Pixels are allowed to be themselves.
  • View-Masters allow for a contained, suggestive cycle that denies resolution.
  • “The Extended Agony of Finding Out,” is a strong cornerstone piece–a good introduction to the body of work.
  • “When I Looked Through You,” suggested Hiroshi Sugimoto’s Theaters–the form and photographing of screens especially.
  • The blog essays nicely supplement the body of work
  • Perhaps monitors can make the distinction between different models of making. Perhaps blurring the line more could be interesting?
  • Matte art paper good choice
  • Do they need to be printed on paper at all (can they exist as just View-Masters?) vs. printed on paper is the best choice; especially matte, as it freezes the frames and gives raw edges.
  • Framing might not be problematic, even though I thought it would kill the pieces. Consider clean plexi and wall, with L-hooks.
  • What if I sandwiched small pieces under one large sheet of plexi, like multiple windows on a monitor?
  • A brilliant observation by Kiera Reese: “White is easy to see as memory. Blue-artifact of process, digital/analogue maybe? Artificial as pigment, natural as sky -the personal aspects of this project feel more evident in the writing and perhaps the printmaking. -cell phone captures.”
  • Atemporality, a juxtaposition of past and present.
  • Love the “almost” aspect of the images. Suspended moments. From Kiera: “I like to think of that as an anti-decisive moment in my own work for photo history purposes, but it feels different in your work I think because of the film aspect. The photo-taking seems more like a means to an end than an actual interest in photography, which makes perfect sense in this body of work.”
  • Images with double image/drag affect provide the sensation of something slipping from grasp.
  • Ones with text feel a little out of place with the rest.
  • What happens if I separate the colors in the physical presentation, like printed on separate transparent layers or two separate projectors.
  • It would be fascinating/compelling to somehow experience immersion in all 23,000+ images.


Their analysis helped strengthen my understanding of what the series was doing, pointed out new potential for further development, and helped me refine areas that hadn’t been fully developed. This is the joy of critique. It is valuable. Precious. Treasure it. Seek it out. Never let it go.

I want to personally thank: Kiera Reese, Allison Conley, Sean Stewart, Nancy Meyer, Cindi Gaudette, Susan D. Hopp, Joshua Sevits, Les Ann Holland, Adria Crossen Davis, John Kramer, Carol Felley, and Kong (the awesome gallery assistant at Butte College). Your feedback and analysis are much appreciated. Check out my links page to view (most of) their portfolios.


Final Mentor Meeting

Foothill Incident

Foothill Incident

I had my final mentor meeting with Kevin on 12/17 and we wrapped up the semester nicely. Since we were pretty much on the same page for the course of the semester, we had already covered lots of theoretical and formal territory.



  • The final presentation: table (less formal) vs. pedestal (precious, untouchable).
    • How natural is the interaction? How natural does it need to be, and does it matter if it is interacted with at all? How to set up an environment?
  • Complications of informing the museum-goer of a piece’s interactivity; how to inform, interface design. We discussed Layar and an installation I had seen earlier in the semester where some viewers took the time to download the app and view the work, others saw the work as it was, without the interactive component.
  • Ways of testing the 3D imaging using 2-slide stereoscopy, creative home rigs and glasses, making my own VR screen
  • Use tracking shots, or pseudo-tracking shots, consider old school animation problems
  • Consider the background vs. foreground as suggestion of movement
  • Consider the offset, pixel-based offset
  • What about Google Street View as a tracking system?


  • The idea of adding elements after the fact and re-dimensionalizing the “program” is compelling and relevant. Should be exciting.
  • Seems a solid addition to the installation group.


Rental (Requesting Backup)

Kevin viewed the current version (potentially final) of Rental… and felt it was nicely resolved, in line with the other video works. He appreciates the collage-to-the-point-of-abstraction approach and felt it handled issues that arose in the rough cut well. it’s now ready for peer review.

Theory and Writing

We talked at length about the nature of research, theory and writing, and how these considerations impact our artistic production. It seems natural for our attitude toward writing and research to evolve over time–at times occupying a space of great hybrid practice, at other times existing as paradoxes of work-research, research-work (which comes first? Do they co-exist (at times each half becoming dominant)?).

Kevin suggested I always consider writing a formal practice, making it useful for myself, including whatever way(s) it manifests in and through the work. A process of formal discovery, of zeroing in on things, can be similar in both the way artistic works are built and in the way writing is composed. Writing should remain flexible and helpful, as we are first and foremost studio artists. At some point we can give ourselves permission to be experts, even as we are curious, evolving, learning experts.

We also talked about the artist statement as a philosophical challenge–and how it forces us to confront our ideas about the work, and what the work is really doing. We got breached the nature of tweeting–and how boiling our body of work down to 140 characters is both mind-numbingly difficult and brilliantly revealing. With this in mind, I will try to create a micro artist statement. If I can lay out my work in a tweet-length instant, it would be beneficial to my understanding of the project and to my ability to communicate it to others.

In short, Kevin has been tremendously helpful this semester and I’ll keep him apprised of the project as it flows toward completion.



Mentor Meeting (7/31) – Belated Write-up

"Temple," 2012. Relief and serigraphy on tan BFK Rives paper.

“Temple,” 2012. Relief and serigraphy on tan BFK Rives paper.

Though I had an informal meeting with Karsten yesterday and did some printing in his shop, I realized I had never done a decent write-up of our first official mentorship critique. So, here goes.

Karsten Creightney is a fellow painter / printmaker, with an MFA from the University of New Mexico and a BA from Antioch College. He also completed the Tamarind Professional Printmaking Program and he currently teaches printmaking at IAIA in Santa Fe.

I had seen Karsten’s MFA thesis exhibition and was very impressed by the scale, surface quality, dynamic space and mixed media integration he employed–there was a sense of active exuberance that communicated his ideas through fractured landscape. His combination of oil paint, serigraphy, lithography, collage, chine colle, monotype and other cross-media experimentation is especially exciting to me–as my own work expands its engagement with Post-Post Modern transmedia and mixed media experience.

Our first meeting was on July 31, at my studio. I hung the work I showed at the residency, for the sake of cross-referencing responses, as well as a few additional pieces from the same series. We had a 2-hour brainstorm session that was incredibly beneficial, which included a detailed critique of the work and the potential for future growth.

Before we even met officially, Karsten took the time to go through my entire portfolio website, read my thesis, artist statement and other written bits, and he had also checked out this blog and had looked at my bibliography and artists lists. I couldn’t believe it! It really facilitated the discussion because we started out on the same page. I was really impressed with his serious interest in working with me.

I took lots of notes that I’ll try to group nicely here.

Karsten’s overall initial impression and thoughts on the work:

  • The prints are received as drawings, with a dominating flavor of drawing–they are not readily apparent to be prints. Especially Di Guan and The Emperors of Three Worlds.
  • Formally: there is a strong sense of layering, washy veils, and cascading thin layers that are offset by more direct marks. The transparency and layered space is interesting / effective.
  • There is a meditative nature, or sense of meditation in some pieces
  • Titles help lead the viewer, allows the viewer to understand with more specificity
  • He liked that elements are explored from both sides, yet are still recognizable form, in-between recognition and non-recognition.
  • He was especially pleased with the color palette in the Pompeii series.
  • He sees the created and the destroyed
  • He recognizes energy vs. non-energy, action vs. non-energy in the work
  • He sees that layers are allowed to exist as separate in a bold way, as in Pillar (which he liked). There’s something nice about the white ink being allowed to sit on top. This sensibility can be applied to add to other pieces, too.
  • He likes the luminous quality of some of the papers, prefers the thicker papers
  • There is beauty in non-being as well as in matter
  • What does the spiritual or Taoist aspect mean for the art? It is impossible to achieve “Tao” in the art, but I come close.
  • Practice of discipline, restraint mixed with free, open ideas of expansion
  • The abstraction functions as non-action, the landscape as a source of inspiration
  • He was pleased with the way Temple made use of space, collapsing surface.

Some of his suggestions / things to consider / words of wisdom / recommendations / and reactions to pieces:

  • We are fiercely confident about our sources of inspiration and inquiry, but we do not always need to be so literal about it–regardless of the viewer’s reception.
  • Use titles to my advantage, they can lead the viewer
  • Work never needs to be a literal expression of an idea. When elements are allowed to just be there, that’s enough.
  • For future work, think of ways to explore the ideas that have not come up yet–how to continue playing with space and transition.
  • What if I play more with the void, as Brice Marden does–make it an additive experience, rather than always initial or reductive. What if my void or negative space is actually layered silence, like Marden (instead of always relying on the white or solid color paper to be the void).
  • Consider taking my white-ink-on-top technique and try adding it to other kinds of pieces
  • Try investing in different kinds of surfaces, instead of always thin rice paper. What about canvas? Thick rice paper? See what happens when the ideas are expressed on thicker paper.
  • Since abstraction functions as non-action, or non-matter in the pieces, abstraction might be the easier method for me! But what about challenging myself to say the same things, without relying as much on abstraction. What if the representation is effortless, yet rendered? He suggested just experimenting by moving from pure representation to pure abstraction, to see if there’s a stage in between that works better than the middle. There might be, might not be. Just experiment.
  • Void can also be space (depth, layers)
  • Recommended new collage techniques–he’ll give demo. Asked me to try working with collage.
  • Be risky. Like Basquiat.
  • What if things expand beyond the picture plane? A window into a larger world?
  • Edit my portfolio website more–make the galleries smaller, more concise. I don’t need to show everything.
  • Try varying the sizes of the rock shapes more within each piece

Artists to look at:

  • Richard Diebenkorn (especially his Albuquerque paintings)
  • Brice Marden (already on my list) – he wants me to look again at Marden to see his style of editing. Though Marden’s shapes seem suspended in a solitary manner on the page or canvas, they’re really built on layers of texture and color that’s been re-surfaced to create a new void. The void keeps coming back in an additive, rather than reductive, way. Marden leves the thin skeletons of layers, put and removed, added and reduced.
  • Look at more contemporary Asian artists
  • Basquiat – (already on my list). He added that Basquiat is fearless in his ability to paint an entire surface with detail, then void out vast areas, leaving that active sense of “nothing” behind. He is willing to sacrifice any part of the whole.
  • Terry Winters

The setup (i also had additional piles of loose prints for him to look through):