Visual Art Commentaries

The Superficial to the Sublime
VIRGINIA HOFFMAN, SRQDaily January 1, 2012 

Kim Russo, Ringling College Fine Arts Department head, puzzled me when she said on WWSB of the “Fast Life” graphic at 1001 Central Avenue: “A piece like this in a community like this offers an opportunity to have a conversation.” What kind of conversation? With whom? Certainly not one guided by the critical minds of educated art experts. Oh yes, maybe she is referring to pithy snippets on Facebook or newbie bloggers trying to drive traffic to their sites. This superficial dialogue, while not alien to us, is a new phenomenon in Sarasota. Call me old-fashioned but I prefer conversations about art not based on the social currency earned by jumping on somebody’s bandwagon. This sort of populism can diminish the general cultural intelligence of a community. Bloggers soliciting content with a “What do you think?” tease should never replace the sublime voice of true art criticism. With the demise of the printed media, our conversations about art are being reduced to the latest wave of social media and controlled by self-appointed bloggers absent an editor’s watchful eye. American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson explained the role of art this way: “It has been the office of art to educate the perception of beauty. We are immersed in beauty, but our eyes have no clear vision.” When the uninitiated art enthusiast looks at art not knowing what they are looking at or understanding its intent, the experience for them is reduced to “I know what I like” or “my grandchild can do better.” The deeper meaning is elusive without a proper guide that offers credible content to the conversation. Visual artists also benefit from constructive criticism from an educated art critic because without establishing standards to strive for, we are left with an mélange of saccharine whimsy unbecoming of a city such as ours also striving for the very best culture. Recently, I attended the unveiling of the esoteric James Turell Skyspace installation at the Ringling Museum and it was packed, proof that the public finds the higher ideal appealing when in the proper context. As a lover of lowbrow movies and vintage kitschy Americana, I can vouch that a small diet of populism does not cause brain freeze, but let’s not stop our community conversation about art at 46 characters.