Earlier this week I visited Edge, a ceramics and photography exhibition in Truro Museum by Paula Downing and her husband Antony Hosking. There was lots to like. The colours that Downing uses are very close to my heart. There is something extremely Cornish and rugged about her work. Where I prefer the sense of fragility and delicateness of porcelain, she works in quite thick slabs of stoneware and earthenware clays and yet I feel an affinity to her work; I love her edges and I am intrigued by her range of slips and mark making. The exhibition blurb emphasises how much her pieces are influenced by her ability to look properly and this certainly comes across. Each work begins with copious drawings and with in depth studies of her husband’s photographic images, which have a soft, ethereal feel to them, very different to Downing’s interpretations but related to them by their sense of place. All in all, there is plenty to consider in the exhibition and, if you find yourself within hailing distance of Truro, you should definitely pop along and take a look.
But one thing pained me greatly: As is often the case, there is a comments book for people to voice their opinions and to leave little messages for the artists. Now I wonder about these books. Who are they meant for? Is it intended as a bit of an ego trip for the artist? Is it so that the visiting public can be seen to have taken note? Why DO people write in these books?
There were many charming comments about the work on view; quite a few of them by children. Well, it is half term and it has rained a lot in Cornwall so children have been frequenting the museum. But what shook me was one rather acrimonious comment about Hosking’s images. The remark implied that the images were poorly composed and out of focus. Well quite apart from the fact that I don’t agree about the compositions and the lack of focus is, I am certain, intended, I feel that this kind of comment is out of order! To make matters worse the author had not left their name; a flippant remark filled the signature box instead. I suppose that it is just possible that this was written as a joke by somebody who knows the artist well and with their knowledge. If so, it is in pretty poor taste to set it down in a public place. I do not believe that these books are the appropriate forum for such jokes, if joke it is. Surely, what ever else these books are for, they are not for that kind of negativity.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines criticism as the analysis and judgement of the merits and faults of a literary or artistic work, the word ‘critic’ coming from Greek κριτικός, meaning ‘able to discern’. This being the case, a critic needs to be able to make some kind of scholarly judgement about the work, not simply pour vitriol all over it, and do they not also need to own their remarks?
I hope that if ,or when, I am in the position to to have such a book available for comments at my exhibitions, the people who chose to leave remarks do so in the spirit of being helpful and that I will be able to receive them with a view to refining my work, not as something which only serves to get in the way of how I feel one way or the other!