29th Annual POSITIVE NEGATIVE National Juried Art Exhibitions
Juror: BUZZ SPECTOR
Dean of College and Graduate School of Art, Washington University
Presented by the Department of Art & Design and Slocumb Galleries in partnership with the Office of Multicultural Affairs, Slocumb Galleries Student Society, Urban Redevelopment Alliance, Charles Sherrod Library and ETSU Student Government Association (SGA) B.U.C. Funding
Juror's Statement: Positive/Negative
It is a great privilege to join the roster of distinguished artists and scholars who have juried the "Positive/Negative" National Juried Art Competition since it began in 1985. A long life in art affords opportunities of various sorts for a person to cultivate critical judgment. Every artist, after all, judges his or her own work during and after its making, and implicit in anyone's studio production is the critique of those artworks by others whose premises contradict one's own artistic values. Indeed, the transition from art student to artist is as likely to come from a rendered judgment ("That sculpture is bad art," or "That picture has no justification for having been painted") as from the grasp one suddenly has of the connections between one's own use of materials and ideas. The connection I draw here is based on a simple premise: that one must be standing somewhere in order to reject standing elsewhere.
At different moments in my professional life I have juried artist grant applications, passed judgment on nominations for artist fellowships, and even participated in the selection of artists to represent the United States at international biennial exhibits. On each of these occasions I made my selections while negotiating an interior argument between my individual artistic interests and my professional awareness of trends in contemporary art. As an artist I try to stay true to the particular modes and ideas by which I materialize those aspects of consciousness—and citizenship—I value most highly. As one who frequently writes criticism about the art and ideas of the moment I spend as much time as I can with artworks outside the repertoire of my own studio techniques. As an educator I often mentor creative young people making their first critical judgments about what kind of artist it is they want to be. In the latter two roles I sometimes encounter works whose subject matter doesn't interest me. That said, I most admire any art that, regardless of its local content, "promotes human fulfillment." I take this characterization from the writer John Gardner with whom I studied in college. Gardner argued that "true art is by its nature moral," which is something other than moralizing about particular ideologies or orthodoxies. Rather, as Gardner saw it, art extends its makers' convictions by offering itself as a test of those values in the judgments of its publics, whether those are of viewers, readers, or listeners.
My request as juror was an open call for art, to which I added a supplemental interest of my own in "artwork engaged with reading and pages as vital elements." I did so because reading surrounds us, as press, screen, signage, and inscription. However briefly, that moment of reading artworks serves to connect the text-bearing object to other habitations of the word. In this sense, then, the presence of language in, or on, the artwork is a conceptual hinge from which it swings back and forth between affiliations with reading and gazing. Enough "readable" work was submitted here to make possible the dual installations now on view.
Let me share with you my premises for accepting the art you see here. First and foremost I looked for evidence of understanding of how materials and techniques work together to make the finished work. Secondly, I looked for evidence of craftsmanship appropriate to the meaning I presumed each individual work to express. I specifically DO NOT mean by this that I expected excellence of craft to be of value, in itself, as something apart from the form of the work. There is plenty of art on view before publics elsewhere that seems to invite us to ask, "How did she do that?" or else "How long did that take?" Trust me, these are not the most important questions that art is capable of raising. I would argue, in fact, that whenever the technique by which a work is fashioned becomes itself the subject of our gaze, whatever other things the work was made to say are being obscured. The best technique is an invisible armature; it operates to direct our attention through itself toward the meanings the artist wishes to share.
This brings me to a third selection criterion, that something of the wholeness of a life is implied in any fashioned thing. There is no absolute value implicit in any material choice for making an artwork, but even the merest ordinary material can be made to offer eloquent testimony of the meaning within its presence on view. In this regard, the individual work evokes not only a community of similar objects, but a public whose customs of appreciation are worth learning about. In this sense, then, we find another way of interpreting the "originality" of a work of art. I am not resident in the imaginary communities conjured up here and there in the works on view, but I am grateful that each brought me, at least momentarily, to places I had not been before.
Buzz Spector is an artist and critical writer whose artwork has been the focus of exhibitions in such museums and galleries as the Art Institute of Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, and Mattress Factory, Pittsburgh, PA.
His work makes frequent use of the book, both as subject and object, and is concerned with relationships between public history, individual memory, and perception. Spector was a co-founder of WhiteWalls, a magazine of writings by artists, in Chicago in 1978, and served as editor until 1987. Since then he has written extensively on topics in contemporary art for American Craft, Artforum, Art on Paper, Dialogue, Exposure, and New Art Examiner, among other publications. Buzzwords, a book of interviews with Spector, plus new page art, was published in 2012 by Sara Ranchouse Publishing, Chicago.
Buzz Spector is the Jane Reuter Hitzeman and Herbert F. Hitzeman Jr. Professor of Art and Dean of the College and Graduate School of Art in the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts at Washington University in St. Louis. Spector received degrees from the University of Chicago and Southern Illinois University, Carbondale.
Spector was awarded the prestigious Distinguished Teaching Art Award by the College Art Association in 2013. In 2005, he received the NYFA Fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts. In 1991 he was awarded a Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Fellowship. In 1982, 1985, and 1991 he received National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship Awards.