2005 Skidmore Student Exhibition
February 1 - March 6
When jurying a show such as this one, I try to keep an open mind about what I'm seeing. I look for what the artist is attempting to do, and how well it is done. I want to see the artist in command of the materials and ideas he or she is engaging. That said, technical brilliance is fine, but technique alone is a dead end unless the artist has something to say. I want to see, and feel, that there is something at stake in the work, and that failure is a possibility. Work that appears easy or effortless is all too frequently inert, ingratiating, or facile.
I'm interested in the fit between idea, materials, and execution: are the means the artist has chosen appropriate to the motivating intention, subject, content, or what we might think of as the "idea terrain" the work occupies? Does the size of the work seem right? If the artist has decided to occupy a lot of space, is it convincingly done? Is the work too big for the idea, or vice versa? These are a few of the things I keep in mind when I'm looking at a group of works like this.
As an artist, you can't always know when you are doing work that other people will like enough to show, buy, or write about. Even if you like the work you're making and are convinced it's strong, others may not respond. Doubt and self-questioning are normal and often useful as long as they don't keep you from working. Paradoxically, unlike many other fields of human endeavor, if your artwork is too much like something else that everyone agrees is good, that makes your work bad by rendering it unoriginal and derivative.
The artist Robert Ryman has famously said that the question for painters is not what to paint, but how to paint. When you have figured out how to paint, he believes the question of what to paint takes care of itself. At a public talk in 1994, a young artist said to him "You have talked about the what and the how of painting, but what about the why? Why do you paint?" Ryman, a shy man, looked nonplussed and responded with a shaking head, "Why? Why do we do anything we do…? You just have to really want to do it!" That's art.