Thursday, July 5, 2012

The pros and cons of anonymity

I wrote yesterday about a couple of comments left on my blog that took me to task about inappropriately comparing Quilt National to the State Fair.  One of those commenters, Anonymous, who apparently was in a crabby mood, didn't stop there; she also was unhappy with my remarks about an unnamed quilter whose work I didn't respect.

She (or he?) wrote:  "As for the quilter you have no respect for, why the sudden coyness? Name the quilter and stop hiding behind vague accusations."

Well, I'm not going to.  For one thing, 99.9 percent of my readers wouldn't know her anyway, so what's the point?  For another, I can't see that the quilter's name was relevant to the anecdote, which simply noted that it's easy to be seduced at first glance by flashy colors, which can distract you from poor design.

The hardest part of a critic's job -- at least, any critic who isn't a sadist -- is to know what to say about work that isn't very good.  Movies are probably the art form in which you're most likely to read a bad review, because a lot of people look to the critic for guidance on whether to plunk down their eight bucks tomorrow.  Critics are also likely to pan bad concerts or plays, for the same reason.

In the art world, critics in real newspapers rarely review bad shows, unless the artist is famous.  Recently I've read negative reviews about shows by Cindy Sherman and Damien Hirst, to name a couple of really high-profile examples.  But publications tend not to waste space saying bad things about artists at the lower ends of the food chain.

So what about bloggers, specifically me?  I write a lot about work on exhibit, both fiber art and general art; whenever I attend a show or a museum I write about it with as many photos as possible, and comment on individual pieces as well as the show in general.  I confess that I am far more likely to comment when I like a piece than when I don't, although that has happened on occasion.  When I don't, I usually write in generalities (for instance, too many of the quilts had glitter) rather than in specifics (Suzy Q's quilt was ugly) because that's probably more interesting and helpful to the readers.

I don't think I'm hiding, as Anonymous suggested.  I'm not afraid to be flamed, which is likely to occur when you say anything at all negative.  A couple of months ago, for instance, I got in big trouble for saying I liked a quilt but hated the way it was photographed because you couldn't see the whole thing.  (Good thing I didn't say I hated it!)  I'm perfectly willing to speak up when I see things that I consider weak or dumb or thoughtless or whatever.

However, I don't see the point of gratuitous cruelty.  To a certain extent, that ties my hands a bit.  My comments about crappy quilts might be more interesting if I showed you photos of some, but it's just not worth it.  I suspect you readers can fill in the blanks -- when I talk about an unnamed artist whose work I don't respect, just think of some artist whose work YOU don't respect, and see if the shoe fits. Sorry if you think I'm being coy; I prefer to think I'm being kind.

And by the way, speaking of anonymity, I have been told that the Blogger interface sometimes makes it difficult for people without Google accounts to leave comments.  Here's a tip, in case you would like to comment without being identified as "Anonymous."  After you type in your comment, it asks you to "choose an identity."  You can choose "Name/URL" and then type in whatever name you want; leave the URL box blank.


  1. It's interesting though, that an Anonymous commenter wants you to name a quilter - don't think he or she quite gets the irony in that!
    Whats the point in critiquing anything if you're only allowed to say nice things? And you're not being unkind, just truthful and stating your own opinion. If quilters want to be more respected in the art world, then we have to get used to more honest appraisals and evaluations.

  2. Anonymous may be bored and want to read an ugly exchange between you and a specific quilting teacher. The purpose of your discussion, however, was not to attack in a personal way this teacher, but to state that even the so-called experts are guilty of poor design. It goes back to what they teach us about providing criiticism, to not make it personal.

  3. When I read the relevant blog post, I wrongly assumed that the unattributed examples of poor design were from your own portfolio.

    As creators of artistic works, we all hold moral rights to be attributed as creators and these moral rights are widely enshrined as law. It seems good practice to name the artist even if your critique is unflattering.

    Under Australian law, you may use/publish copyright material for the purposes of criticism or review without the consent of the creator, and without infringing copyright, BUT you must name the creator and the title of the work. Is the US fair dealing exception couched in similar terms?

  4. Crappy quilts are part of the process of getting to less crappy quilts. I've thought about your posts so much that I had to do some self analysis. For me it is uncomfortable to know that I don't fully understand all the levels of crappiness. Even when I conquer something new there are still many things to work on.

    I would rather a friend tell me I have spinach in my teeth, should wear those other jeans rather than the ones I chose today, and that my quilt would be a little better if....

  5. I believe that during the process of creating art, that there is a 'dialog' that takes place between the artist and the material. When we choose to share that art with others, this in turn initiates a 'dialog' between the viewer and the art. Everyone's opinion will be different. We all operate from a different set of prejudices and experiences. It's all subjective.

  6. Caroline in KentuckyJuly 5, 2012 at 12:36 PM

    I don't know if I am making cake or frosting but I sure am having fun painting on my fabric in the heat and humidity of Kentucky in my garage.

  7. Brenda Gael is right -- the unattributed examples of mediocre design were made by me.

    But Anonymous was commenting on a previous post, in which there was only one illustration -- a painting by LeRoy Neiman -- and an anecdote about a quilter whose work I thought was big on color but bad on design.

    As to the differences between Australian and US copyright law, I plead ignorance. I do know that under US law there is an exception for "fair comment" but don't believe there is any requirement about posting the creator's name.

  8. I know what you mean by "a lot of frosting" out there. Frosting is easy. You get to buy a new gizmo and probably some shiny things. If you make something with it, most of the people you know think it's cool, are perhaps a bit jealous cuz you've got The Latest Frosting, and that you actually finished a project. Lots of ego stoking there. Cake/bread/sweet potatoes is work. Most people say, "that's nice." It's hard to find anyone that will appreciate your work. Or that can help figure out why it sorta sucks but has potential.
    I just re-read a super basic design book by Molly Bang called Picture This. I thought it was helpful in thinking through what different design elements convey, but I am a novice.

  9. Well said; I agree that there isn't any need to name anyone. I read regularly here and enjoy your blog.