Saturday Bits

THIS SEEMS A GOOD TIME to say a word of thanks to those of you—you brave few—who take time to email with your own names. I am glad to have them, glad for that brief moment where the curtain of anonymity gets pulled back. It delights me to know that there are real people behind the pen names almost everyone uses.

But why is there is so much reluctance to using a real name on a blog like this? It is so totally nonthreatening. No existential crisis is involved. Death threats, and the like, are supposed to be anonymous. It would be a breach of protocol if they were not. But what is at stake in signing names to benign blog posts? Clearly, commentators do not want to leave a paper trail. But why? You can’t all be running for the Supreme Court. Or hiding from Interpol.

I wonder if, in these politically correct times, it is just too intimidating to state an opinion in our own name. Certainly, we all have them. We just don’t want our names attached to them. The word judgmental is in disrepute. To state an opinion is to stand on a judgment, to discriminate between alternative stances. We feel freer to do it in disguise.

Artists, in particular, seem to find it hard—even irksome—to make a judgment about the art that is out there. There are fewer inhibitions about historical work than the contemporary stuff. A critical view that is negative to any degree sets off shouts of “Unkind!” It is as if any artist’s feelings count for more than the effort to speak truthfully about their art. As one painter wrote to me:

I don’t want to criticize anyone else’s work because I don’t want someone else criticizing mine.

That kind of timidity has a certain prudence about it. I certainly understand it. But I have a hard time respecting it. Caution is one thing; failure of nerve, quite another. We can all find excuses for rationalizing our wobbly courage. But then we have to live with the excuses we fabricate for ourselves. In the end, that is harder, more debilitating, than living with the consequences—and they do arrive—of using our faculties as fully and freely as possible.

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THE ACADEMY OF MEDIA ARTS COLOGNE (KHM) is promoting its degree course in AudioVisual Media. Devoted to “the artistic moving image,” it offers what appears to be a full menu of the technical knowledge needed to create features and documentaries, plus that non-filmic specialty, experimental films. What strikes me is the last item on its list of reasons why students should enroll: It “prepares the ground for the building of networks.” There you have it—the real reason for a graduate degree in the arts is the chance to hobnob, make connections, glad hand with people who might be useful one day. Get your name around early. Schmooze. Collect cards and keep a supply of your own handy—a breast pocket is good, if you have one—where you don’t have to fish for it. (Timing matters in these exchanges.)

In short, grad school is a networking tool, a brick-and-mortar Linkedin. How does Linkedin put it? “Find the people you need to achieve your goals.” Just so. It leaves you wondering how art ever came out of the caves without an academic program to guide it.

Emphasis on connections increases as the criteria for judging art shrinks. Anything that was not born that way is art. And if art can be anything at all, what matters is who says what about it. Grad school gets you in on the ground floor with the right kind of Who. That is the Who with more connections than you have.

It is an intriguing game. Good for the good people at KHM for being so straightforward about it.

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A painter with a good eye for gall and wormwood and an ear for cant, forwarded this cartoon. I love it. There is always at least one fellow—quite often a guy, in truth—at every art event who turns out in costume as The Creative Type. Here is one them. It is by New Yorker cartoonist, Steve Duenes:


And while grad school and cartoons are on the table at the same time, it is good to note that the inimitable Michael Ramirez won two Pulitzer Prizes for his art without a single graduate degree. He took an undergraduate degree from University of California, Irvine, in 1986. He was not an art student. At the time, he was interested in going into medicine. Cartooning was a hobby. Out of that hobby has come marvelous editorial cartoons with some of the most versatile, distinctive and graceful drawing around. This, for Investors Business Daily:



Michael Ramirez did not need an MFA to teach him his politics, sharpen his wit or his hand. There is a lesson there.


© 2010 Maureen Mullarkey

1 Comment


  1. See, Maureen, a Supreme Court drop-out! This is just response to the first half of the post – will come back for the latter when I have more time to read. If anything, it’s the rare “tell it as it is” strain in art criticism that keeps me coming back to Studio Matters. It’s SO refreshing. At first I thought it was courage, then I just decided it’s plum serenity.

    Happy Third Week!

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