Art Review or Art Observation: Are Oklahoma Artists Ready for a Different Kind of Art Critic?

by Nathan Lee

I have seen many articles written about Oklahoma artists in different publications. From magazine to newsprint, the exploits of our community’s artists are being covered in one way or another. While this is great exposure for the artist, I wonder if some of these “reviews” are doing what art reviews are traditionally meant to accomplish.

With the exception of performing art and film reviews, I rarely see a true review of visual art exhibitions. They are more art observations than anything else. They are safe. They are politically correct and palatable to the public, if not to the artists themselves. I think however, they are doing the visual artists of Oklahoma more harm than good. We could be creating a bubble for artists to become complacent by not including constructive critiques in these so-called reviews. While art is subjective, and no one opinion is the definitive one, I think reviews help patrons navigate our growing arts community much easier. Take film for example, there are a few film critics here who have the same ideas about film I do. 99% of the time, their recommendations are on the money and I usually share their opinion of a particular movie. Oklahoma critics are even quick to site homegrown films as hit or miss with little regard for the feelings of the filmmakers themselves. In a way it helps those artists look within themselves because film is viewed as such a universal artistic expression. That universal nature makes it more accessible to the public; the expectation is that opinions will be expressed.

This is not the case with visual art.

There have been shows that I have attended and been a part of that were less than stellar. Articles were written, but those articles were merely fact stating and observational. There was no like or dislike by the reviewer. The only critiques that were received were whispers after the show. To some degree a certain sense of political correctness has to be maintained, but not to the detriment of the artist. When an artist puts his or her work out to the world, they are saying they are ready for the opinions and the possible criticism that goes along with making their art public. If the visual artist was happy with just creating, they wouldn’t put the work into the public arena. It is the artists responsibility to understand that by sharing, they are now open to justifiable opinion. While daunting and intimidating at times, this should be looked at as a positive for their continued creative growth. Feedback allows you to conceptualize your art in new ways. It makes you evolve.

A review should not make or break an artist. I have seen my shifting bodies of work criticized and some even dismissed. I have also seen those same bodies of work praised and thankfully sold. The criticism and accolades have gone a long way into helping me look within myself as an artist. In fact, I think it is very necessary to challenge the visual artist to progress, and the value of the critic can be found in this kind of focal point. There is a big difference in mudslinging and thoughtful, honest insight.

Back to the original question, “Is the visual artist in Oklahoma ready for a true art review?” I believe the time has come and the need is there. It is frightening to think of getting a negative art review, but it is equally frightening to live in an insulated bubble where people share and whisper their criticisms with everyone else, but the artists. It is time for our artists to develop a tougher skin too. In order to grow, an artist should be able to absorb input from others and create confidence in themselves. It would be counter productive for artists to leave our state, garner a challenging review, and be shaken by it. This can happen and it can shake creative confidence. There will always be those who relate to a creative vision and those who cannot understand it. Both sides of that coin can help an artist to look at things they hadn’t considered. It helps them focus their mode of expression to really hone what they want most to convey.

It is time for Oklahoma to begin challenging and making even better artists with truthful, honest, and constructive art reviews.

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