Monday, November 28, 2011

A Mind's-eye View

A Mind’s-eye View
By Tom Wachunas

My normal practice in reviewing art shows is to publish before the exhibit is closed, which is certainly helpful in bringing interested viewers to the gallery. Artists often tend to appreciate that kind of support, too. So it is with hat in hand that I offer my sincerest apology for being so late with this one. But the show in question, which closed on November 26 – “Women In Aprons” at Zygote Press in Cleveland - was just too sublimely memorable to fade away without some well-earned raving on my part.

The exhibit featured the printmaking works of two women - Hui-Chu Ying and Patricia Zinsmeister Parker – and its title seems to have derived in some part from Ying’s wall installation of 30 red fabric kitchen aprons, collectively titled “She Says,” tacked to one of the gallery walls. Each apron was embroidered with white script in phrases of a distinctly feminist character, such as “Give a woman a job she grows balls,” and “One woman can change anything.” But it is the relief monoprints in her Prayer Series where a remarkable pictorial magic is at work. Replete with delicate floral configurations and symbols from various religions, these lush prints, with their intricate fields of calligraphy punctuated by organic and representational forms, suggest elaborate embroidered prayer scrolls or ‘Oriental’ carpets, as well as delightfully meditative, abstracted landscapes.

The eleventh-hour drive to Cleveland was originally prompted by an invitation from Patricia Zinsmeister Parker to see her latest series of works made from rug liners (!) – those rubbery grid-like mats placed under area rugs to keep them from from slipping across smooth floors. Ten of her pieces here were in fact not prints per se, but layered ‘paintings’ mounted on black grounds, made from multiple mats, each a different bright, saturated color, while four of the pieces were monoprint collages – abstracts comprised of color fields printed directly from the rug liners. While nothing can compare to actually seeing these intriguing works up close and personal, the next best option is to spend time visiting her elegant web site,

While Hui-Chu Ying’s prints certainly exude a clear, perhaps even conventional ‘sprituality,’ Parker’s are nonetheless invested with a contemplative if not more urbanized aura all their own. These slightly out-of-register grid configurations are grounds from which her forms and symbols (both familiar and irregular) rise, at once invading and evading our sense of equilibrium. It’s the visual co-existence of contrasting motifs that gives these works a sense of undulating drama, often with a sense of humor, as evidenced by such titles as “Cleveland Got Mojo,” “Central Park,” and “Swiss Bank Account.” Call it a street-savvy theatre on paper.

Parker’s ten painted assemblages pulse and undulate, too, with all the insistence of flashing neon lights against the black night. Yet interestingly enough, they’re not garish or off-putting, but exquisitely cerebral and subtle. These are quietly seething optical microcosms of compressed depth.

For a long while in viewing the show, “Women In Aprons” did suggest that ancient refrain, “…woman’s work is never done.” What continues to fascinate me about Parker’s evolving ouvre is its utter unpredictability, and her apparent unwillingness to settle too comfortably too long into a particular aesthetic. Never done indeed, she is in fact one woman who can change anything about her work. And she continues to do so with unflinching confidence, freshness, and daring.

Photo: “Clockwork Orange” monoprint collage by Patricia Zinsmeister Parker.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Instruments of Revelation

Instruments of Revelation
By Tom Wachunas

“Some photographers take reality…and impose the domination of their own thought and spirit. Others come before reality more tenderly and a photograph to them is an instrument of love and revelation.”
- Ansel Adams –

I recently eavesdropped on part of a conversation between several people discussing the efficacy of photography as fine art. They all seemed to agree that photography was a less “challenging” and “exciting” (those were their actual words) method for making “realistic” art than was painting or drawing. Examples of both Renaissance and modern painting masters were cited, including photorealistic (a.k.a. ‘Superrealism’) paintings by Chuck Close and Richard Estes. And there were several other comments about the admirable discipline it takes to skillfully render, in paint, something that’s so amazing in its fidelity to visible reality that it looks, interestingly enough…like a photograph. And well, duhh, ANYONE can take a picture of a sunset with a camera, they agreed, but it takes a “true artist” to make it convincingly like the real thing with a paintbrush.

Something told me I would be hard pressed to find any Jackson Pollock fans in this gathering. More to the point, I wondered if they had ever spent much time looking at the work of photographers such as Edward Steichen, Cartier-Bresson, Dorothea Lange, Edward Weston, Ansel Adams, to name just a few historic champions of the medium. Turns out they hadn’t. As it was, I entered the discussion only long enough to mutter my disagreement, gently suggest that they were misinformed, and thank them for prompting what you are now reading.

Over the years I have encountered, to varying degrees, similar reluctance to regard photography as a “high art” form, as if it were an under-appreciated, perhaps even boring stepchild of true art. There are many reasons for this. Whether despite or because of postmodernist pluralism in matters of aesthetics, some still hold the reactionary view that the prime directive of two-dimensional art should be the faithful, albeit inspiring representation of the familiar, physical world. Entrenched conservatism, to be sure. Yet ironically, there is often folded into that viewpoint an accompanying, simplistic notion of photography being somehow too easy, unoriginal, ordinary. Point, click, and presto! - a picture.

Our world is inundated, indeed overwhelmed by instantly accessible visual information delivered via photographs. Rest assured I am aware that most people operating a camera are not artists as such (or shouldn’t claim to be) and are not setting out to make fine art, even as they may wow us with gee-whiz photo shop trickery. Still, one result of this ubiquitous plethora of pictorial data is that we can easily become desensitized and otherwise asleep in our ability to recognize (or even care?) what makes a great photograph and yes, great visual art. Like it or not, we have succeeded in designing and implementing a marvelous system for looking at too many pictures too fast… for throwing the baby out with the bathwater, as it were. It’s increasingly difficult to separate the real gems from the costume jewelry.

Need a wake-up call? First, slow down. Then consider your time as well-spent in seeing the current exhibition of photographs, called “As I See It,” by Steve Ohman at The Little Art Gallery in North Canton. It’s a remarkably eclectic collection of 31 images, the majority of which are black-and-white. That alone places these pictures firmly in what can only be called a noble tradition that I hope never becomes obsolete. Though it might seem counter-intuitive, physical realities formalized in gradations of black to white - presented with the disciplined, masterful eye for the intricacies of light and texture that we see here - can be incomparably pure and powerful documents of life. Ohman’s landscapes in particular are delightfully memorable for their thoughtful formal composition as well as their distinctly poetic sensibility.

In Ohman’s hands, the camera, not unlike the painter’s brush, becomes a vehicle for translating the often seen and commonplace into the newly framed and revealed. Likewise, his photographs are sublime windows on the sheer intrigue and mesmerizing pleasure to be found in the very act of careful looking. In “taking pictures,” he gives back enthralling records of compelling earthly dramas.

Photo, courtesy Steve Ohman and curator Elizabeth Blakemore: “In the Distance” by Steve Ohman. On view THROUGH DECEMBER 11, at The Little Art Gallery, located in the North Canton Public Library, 185 North Main Street, North Canton. Viewing hours 10 a.m. – 8 p.m. Monday – Thursday / 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. Friday / 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. Saturday / 1 p.m. – 5 p.m. Sunday

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Martial Meditations

Martial Meditations
By Tom Wachunas

“Sometime they’ll give a war and nobody will come.” - Carl Sandburg –

“War is a cowardly escape from the problems of peace.” - Thomas Mann –

“Man has no right to kill his brother. It is no excuse that he does so in uniform: he only adds the infamy of servitude to the crime of murder.” - Percy Byshe Shelley –

From the title of his solo show at Main Hall Gallery at Kent Stark – “Wounds of War” - to the titles of the individual drawings, paintings, and collage/assemblages, it’s clear that Fredlee Votaw means for his work to pluck at our heartstrings and speak to our spirits. Given the show’s hot-button subject of war, one intriguing quality here is its overall sense of contemplative calm and, in some cases, an almost stoic serenity.

These aren’t pictures of war’s bloody atrocities. No visual histrionics or gratuitous political diatribes. Collectively, most of the pieces here address the less obvious or sensationalistic - but all too real - pain of longing, isolation, and loss that war heaps upon its victims and participants. Much of the imagery seems to emerge from and float in white voids, as in the series of four drawings called “Thinking About Iraq.” Three of those feature an impeccably rendered pencil or pen portrait of a child juxtaposed with the American flag pictured as the all-too-familiar funereal blue triangle.

Other works are distinctly more visceral, with brooding, earthen colors and textured surfaces embedded with human figurative elements. Visceral too is the simple (though certainly not simplistic) and jarring “Flag of Honor,” a found American flag that’s clearly been through a fire.

Even without the title references to war, these works unabashedly exude real emotion – some more intensely than others. “Missing Her Soldier Daddy” is a wispy oil painting of a little girl, standing against the ghostly side of a house that fades away into empty white space, clutching a stuffed animal, peering at us from under an oversized cap with a look of sadness too heavy for her years.

Sentimental? Surely, depending upon your definition. These days, and for that matter, for decades now, the notion of sentimentality in contemporary art has often been met with disdain and even vitriol by art world intelligentsia. Votaw’s gentle brand of authentic reflection and nostalgic reminiscence is made all the more present, and indeed urgent, by his drawing and painting technique, which is nothing short of jaw-dropping in its clean precision of detail (though there are here a few genuinely interesting forays into looser abstraction). But I would submit to you that ‘sentimentality’ is a matter of relative degrees, and not intrinsically exclusive of appealingly provocative, relevant emotionality – which abounds in Votaw’s work. And so it is that I think there’s nothing vapid, clich├ęd, or mawkish about his aesthetic sensibilities.

Artsy aficionados who feel differently are just itchin’ for a fight.

Photo: “Missing Her Soldier Daddy,” oil on canvas, by Fredlee Votaw, on view through November 30 in the Main Hall Gallery (lower level of Main Hall) on the Kent Stark campus. Viewing hours are Monday – Friday 11:00 a.m to 5:00 p.m., Saturday 10:00 a.m. - Noon

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Writes of Passage

Writes of Passage
By Tom Wachunas

“Dear Bill, I came back to this wall again to see and touch your name. William R. Stocks. And as I do, I wonder if anyone ever stops to realize that next to your name, on this black wall, is your mother’s heart…” - from a letter written by Mrs. Eleanor Wimbish, mother of SP/5 William R. Stocks, 1st Battalion, 6th Infantry, 198th Light Infantry Brigade, American Division, who was killed in a helicopter crash in Vietnam, February 13, 1969 –

It is important to me to tell you that even as I begin this commentary, I’m struggling to avoid sentimentalizing, sermonizing, or otherwise wearing my heart on my sleeve too much (which I fear I’ve already done with this sentence). But if I break my self-imposed rule here to never let you, the reader, sense my sweat and tears over composing a critique, I don’t mind telling you that today I just don’t give a rat’s derriere about journalistic form or etiquette.

My drive home last night (Veterans Day) from the opening performance of “Dear America: Letters Home From Vietnam” at the Kathleen Howland Theatre was eerily like my blackouts from darker days in another life, sans mind-altering substances. Yet I was indeed altered.

Not sure how I arrived home safely. Can’t remember traffic lights or the route. Only a flood of memories from 1968 to about 1971, some of which I’m not proud about. The infamous draft lottery of 1970. Panic. Plans to flee to Canada. Fear and loathing. The ‘Sturm und Drang’ of collegiate protests. The riots at my alma mater, Ohio State University. The May 4 mayhem and tragedy at Kent State. Heartbreaking conversations with bereaved parents and siblings of college chums who never returned from the bloodied, smoldering jungles of Asia. Words and faces that hadn’t crossed my mind with such jarring clarity for many years. Altered. Artful theatre will do that sometimes.

Phillip L. Robb directed this production that he adapted for the stage from the book of the same title. First published in 1987, the book was edited by Bernard Edelman, and was comprised of more than 200 letters written to families and loved ones by men and women who served in Vietnam. HBO produced an Emmy-winning documentary based on the book in 1988. Here, approximately 70 of the letters were read in alternating fashion, with genuine, often impassioned and startling sensitivity, by a solid six-member cast: Greg Emanuelson, Robert C. Fockler, Jim Long, Denise Robb, Rod Lang, and Jacki Dietz.

No fictions here. No ‘based-on-a-true-story’ speculations or saccharine dramatizations. No need for costumes or sound effects. The projected images on a sheet at the back of the stage, largely synchronized to echo content of the letters, are real photographs of real people fighting, flying, running, resting, hiding, hurting, dying, crying and yes, sometimes smiling. This is not so much war illustrated as war illuminated. War told by writeous warriors, as it were, who wrote with surprising eloquence of fear, loyalty, courage, love, confusion, anger, longing, and pride with searing intensity. War not as a vague memory, but made newly present through the dying art of letter-writing. And here, war read out loud by real people with heartbreaking reverence for the living and the dead.

There are too many truly moving passages in this performance – shared equally among the cast - to enumerate here. But two of them refuse to stop rattling in my memory. In one, late in the second ‘act’, Rod Lang, with steely, chilling determination in his voice, reads a letter from soldier Gregory Lusco, published in 1970 by a newspaper in Massachusetts. It’s an articulate but supremely blistering rant against the immoral, insensitive divisiveness and misplaced political sensibilities in this country at the time of the Kent State shootings - a soldier crying out for compassionate attention and respect for those who sacrificed their lives in Vietnam. An equally unforgettable moment (quoted at the beginning of this review) is the epilogue, wherein Denise Robb, with glassy-eyed pathos, effectively becomes the mournful mother who leaves letters to her son at the memorial where his name is etched.

Another memory during my drive home was of a popular poster during the volatile, heady Hippie days of my youth that read, “What if they gave a war and nobody came?” Now, while I’m sincerely grateful to have witnessed last night’s powerful and relevant remembrance, more than ever I’m thinking a better idea would be for us to forget how to do war altogether. To disappear it from our lives. To alter our minds forever. Call it a benevolent blackout.

“Dear America: Letters Home From Vietnam” performances November 12, 18, and 19 at 8 p.m at the Kathleen Howland Theatre, located in Second April Galerie, 324 Cleveland Avenue North, downtown Canton. Tickets $10.00 for adults, $5 for students, senior citizens, and anyone with a public library card. ALL VETERANS ADMITTED FREE. To order call (330) 451 – 0924, or

Photo: the Cast – seated, left-to-right: Robert C. Fockler, Jacki Dietz, Jim Long / standing, l-r, Greg Emanuelson, Denise Robb, Rod Lang

Friday, November 11, 2011


By Tom Wachunas

“In faith there is enough light for those who want to believe and enough shadows to blind those who don’t.” - Blaise Pascal –

“We search for flares of existence and acknowledgement of being. Our mortality becomes glaringly obvious, as the world around us and those within it start to fade away. Peace is a visitor.” – Marti Jones Dixon, from her statement accompanying her painting, “Self at 50,” at Anderson Creative -

“…So it falls to us to illuminate, magnify, reveal.” - Craig Joseph, from “Dementia”, a written work in the exhibition “Into the Light” at Anderson Creative -

One way to embrace the function of art is to think of it as a metaphor for light. Or think of making and encountering art as a celebration of what light is and does. Here, I don’t mean art merely as well-crafted mimetic object – an imitation or illusion – but rather art in its ever-evolving, performative function to explore and reveal the essence of a person, place, thing, or thought. And if we consider light itself as that phenomenon which allows or inspires us to apprehend a physical or spiritual ‘reality’, art at its most powerful is an embodiment of that phenomenon, and a necessary one at that.

And so it is that Anderson Creative continues to mount courageous, innovative, and yes, enlightening thematic exhibitions that are compelling expansions of the purposes and practices of conventional galleries. The current show – called “Into the Light” - features seven local artists who have embraced the subject of light, literally and symbolically, and who collectively provide a deeply meditative and elaborate sensory experience for the viewer.

The gallery has been made over into three separate, intimately appointed rooms, each focused on a particular aspect of interpreting the idea of light – as a physical entity, a manifestation of spirituality and myth, and attaining enlightenment/awareness in matters of mortality and afterlife.

Marcy Axelband’s large painting, “Sometimes Light Is Dark,” is a stunning, very red abstract diptych. Its loose, sweeping strokes intertwine to form a kind of wrinkled texture – a symbol, perhaps, of the rarefied act of seeing. The markings seem to be simultaneously congealing and dispersing, all bristling with a painterly muscularity reminiscent of Willem De Kooning’s urgent expressionism. Lynn Digby’s portraits and landscapes here are easily among her most dramatic and well-painted in recent memory. Her “Lana’s World” is at once telling and eerily silent, with its distant fires burning in the murky night, yet oddly hopeful in its suggestion of a transcendent light source outside the picture plane. The light in Marti Jones Dixon’s powerful, four-section self-portrait, “Self at 50,” is uncompromising in its harsh exposure of progressive aging – a force that sculpts mortality. And Michele Waalkes’ elegant digital prints are masterfully subtle, gentle visions of forms and shadows in ghostly light.

Speaking of ghostly light, filmmaker Andrew Rudd’s “Shadows of Progress” is a haunting, wispy video projection of the headlights from cars reflected on his living room walls, passing by in a mesmerizing, somewhat lonely procession of luminous streaks. In a similarly contemplative, poetic spirit, Craig Joseph’s written works are poignant reflections on significant, even cathartic moments and circumstances, wherein ‘light’ is the realization of some personal truth.

A notably sublime addition to this exhibit is the recorded original music by Paul Digby. It’s a sumptuously orchestrated aural backdrop, classical and Romantic in emotional sensibility, and otherwise achingly beautiful in its often reverential, hymn-like lyricism and rich choral textures.

This show is yet one more remarkable example of Anderson Creative's unique nurturing of art as a fully cognitive journey into perception. I’m reminded that on one level, we see a thing only because of the light it reflects. Yet in its reflecting, the thing seen becomes a light in itself, inspiring and illuminating our imagination. Here, we viewers are encouraged to be more than passive observers of static objects. Rather, we enter the possibility of becoming collaborators in creation, to better know our own inner light.

Photo, courtesy Anderson Creative, “Lana’s World,” oil, by Lynn Digby. On view at Anderson Creative through November 26 at 331 Cleveland Ave. NW, downtown Canton. Hours are Noon – 5p.m. Wed.-Sat.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A Poignant, Curious War Remembrance

A Poignant, Curious War Remembrance
By Tom Wachunas

It is certainly no surprise that great symphonic music, when delivered by orchestras as generally impressive as the Canton Symphony Orchestra (CSO), can be edifying on a strictly cerebral and technical plane. But I was also reminded by the CSO concert on November 6 that there’s real magic in how an orchestra can woo our hearts and evoke powerful emotions, even when questionable program content and order might undermine their momentum.

The thematic backdrop for this occasion was a commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War. While the evening’s opening work – Verdi’s Overture to “La Forza Destino (The Force of Destiny)” – is not about any particular war as such, the opera does embrace a somber theme of fated human affairs. The orchestra negotiated the overture’s intertwined motifs of brooding foment and lighter-hearted meditation with notably vibrant energy, setting a stirring enough tone for what followed – Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man.”

Still, given the solemn, percussive booming that opens this iconic work, and the ensuing thrill of the electrifying brass, I wonder now if the concert would have been better commenced with this compelling call to attention, as the orchestra handled it with truly inspiring panache. The heroic nobility of the work was augmented by the artistry of James Westwater, who has forged a distinguished career in integrating live symphonic music and multiple, monumentally-scaled photo projections in a form he calls “photochoreography.”

Classical purists might object that such added theatricality is as unnecessary as it is distracting. While I found the synchronized pulsing of the projected images to be visually mesmerizing and emotionally stunning in “Fanfare,” and even more so during the performance here of Copland’s “Lincoln Portrait,” the effect did seem more like an afterthought in both Pachelbel’s “Canon” and Philip Glass’s “Interlude No. 1 from the CIVIL warS.”

The Glass work was originally written as a connecting segment between scenes in Act V of an ambitious collaborative project with Robert Wilson, from 1984, that was never presented live in its entirety. Its inclusion in this setting could reasonably be regarded as a metaphor for the calm before, or after, a battle. Unlike some of Glass’s more strident pieces, this very short work is hypnotically serene in its simplicity. It was played here with a hushed sensibility that, once again, effectively set up our anticipation of Copland’s majestic “Lincoln Portrait.”

This was arguably the most deeply moving performance of the evening, further embellished by the arresting photographs from the Civil War that hovered above the orchestra like so many shifting storm clouds. Christopher Craft’s text narration, which the composer built largely from Lincoln’s letters and speeches, was both poignant and commanding, and made all the more compelling by the orchestra’s final explosive note – a victorious exclamation delivered with the deafening clarity of a cannon blast.

After such impactful drama, it seemed a curious choice at this point to insert Pachelbel’s “Canon.” Peace after the war? Possibly, though a somewhat toothless peace at that. While the familiarity of the work certainly didn’t breed anything contemptible, the understated performance here was simply too ordinary for an orchestra of this caliber.

Similarly, in the concert’s final work – Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 4 (“Italian”) – the orchestra was at times uninspired. For all of the first movement’s rhythmic and melodic verve, the normally invigorating resonance of the strings seemed uncharacteristically lackluster, and at other points through the work perhaps even a bit out of tune. Fortunately, such quirks were overcome by the vigorous, authoritative reading of the ebullient, propulsive finale.

Particularly captivating throughout the evening was the animated demeanor of CSO Associate Conductor Matthew Brown at the podium. His is a delightfully articulated and endearing physical commitment to the music, here emanating an uncanny sense that he literally held the orchestra – and the audience - in the palms of his hands.

Photo, by Jeremy Aronhalt, Canton Symphony Orchestra Associate Conductor Matthew Brown

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Echoes of a Scream

Echoes of a Scream
By Tom Wachunas

“War does not determine who is right – only who is left.” – Bertrand Russell –

Even the earliest moments of “Plumfield, Iraq”, the season-opening production at Kent State University at Stark Theatre, augur tragedy. A group of young men and women, running in formation to a lively military cadence call, morphs into a frolicsome gathering of high school buds playing touch football. Someone named Cam is missing from the fun. Cam’s best friend, Mike, gently pleads with the group to wait just a little while longer before going their separate ways and getting on with their day. Indeed, with their lives.

What unfolds, then, is a war tale, a “memory drama” written by Barbara Lebow - here with Brian Newberg directing a youthful, remarkably skilled eight-member cast - that takes place in the guilt/grief-riddled mind of Mike, suffering from a very protracted case of PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). He is our lens on simple, innocent life in the fictional small town of Plumfield, Washington, and on the harrowing battlefield of Iraq. It is a lens at once crystal clear and fogged over by the vapors of horrific memories.

Without ever succumbing to ideological axe-grinding, grandstanding, or gratuitous preaching, Lebow’s play is nonetheless an uncompromising look at the awful democracy of war. No respecter of age, gender, politics, or nationality, and with cruel equanimity, it leaves in its wake usurped dreams, wrecked psyches, and otherwise arrested lives. It’s the chaotic contrast between Mike’s nostalgic remembrances of Plumfield pleasantries and his searing wartime flashbacks that drives the story, starting with his reluctant decision to enlist in the Army along with Cam, both fresh out of high school. They’re sent to Iraq, still under a delusion that the worst of the war, initially celebrated for its brevity, was over. They envision returning to the lives and loves they left behind, with their Veteran benefits assuring a college education. Cam would pursue a business career, and Mike a life in music.

There is essentially no physical stage set, and minimal props. In this somber atmosphere, “scenery” is delivered via light effects along with still and moving images projected on the large back wall painted to look like stone. Real war footage is generously interspersed with poignant snapshots and videos of the characters’ laptop missives to each other.

Anthony Antoniades’ portrayal of Mike is for the most part successful in its volatile balance between his character’s gentle nature and his clear horror at what transpires in Iraq. He’s shell shocked, literally and figuratively. At times he’s twisted into a fetal, defensive silence, locked inside overwhelming shadows of loss, failure, and guilt. It’s all a compelling counterpoint to the more ostentatious, confident nature of Cam, played with eminently credible, affectionate gusto by Matt King.

Both Erin Stewart, as Cam’s newlywed wife, Lorraine, and Devonn Patterson, playing Mike’s girlfriend, Beth, bring genuine tenderness along with palpable, bittersweet urgency to their scenes of trying to draw Mike out of his torturous memories. To rejoin the living.

Given all of the story’s sharply and powerfully defined images of psychological and emotional trauma, the play’s final moment of Mike climbing the stairs out of his basement is somewhat ethereal (and maybe for some, unsatisfying) and enigmatic. Is it a flashback, a dream, a goodbye to his life, a promise, a prophecy?

Call it an ascension, then. From the (de)basement of war’s damnable malignancy, to the possibility of curative atonement. Amid echoes of lingering hope.

“Plumfield, Iraq” curtain times are November 10 (Thursday) and 12 at 8 p.m. / November 6 and 13 at 2:30 p.m. in the Kent State University at Stark Theatre, Fine Arts Building. Tickets are $10 for adults and $7 for senior citizens and students 16 and younger. To order, call (330) 244 – 3348 or visit

Photo: “Echoes of a Scream” enamel on wood by David Alfaro Siquieros, 1937

Thursday, November 3, 2011

First Let's Kill All the Critics?

First Let’s Kill All the Critics?
By Tom Wachunas

“We keep lowering the bar as to what makes acceptable, good, or great art. These days, many regard all art as somehow sacrosanct and above reproach, if only because it is the unique product of human hands and personal passions. This kind of thinking continues to generate an increasingly shallow democracy of ideas that is slowly obliterating art.” – June Godwit, from “The Third Entity” (1975) –

Prompted to some degree by recent comments posted to my review of the Stark County Artists Exhibition at the Massillon Museum, what follows is not an apology, defense, or even clarification, but rather questions relevant to - in varying degrees (and in no particular order) - making, appreciating, and interpreting art. Questions that are intrinsic to the discipline – yeah, I said discipline - of critique.

Are all opinions about art of equal value? Who is qualified to assess the quality or meaning of art? What constitutes an “informed” opinion? Is knowledge of art history useful in discussing and/or evaluating contemporary art? Why or why not? Are the writings of Plato and/or Aristotle on art and aesthetics still useful or applicable in discussing contemporary art? Why or why not? What is the role of the artist in the 21st century? Is it global or culture-specific? Has the artist’s role changed since the 20th or 19th or 18th centuries? How? What is the role of the art critic in the 21st century? Who is qualified to be an art critic? Do we need art critics? Why do we make art? Why do we look at it? Why should we care about art? By what standards do we assess the success or failure of a work of art? Who established/establishes those standards? Must a work of art, or an artist, be accountable to any standards? Should art advance or enhance our thinking about living, human nature, or morality? Who and what defines “bad taste”? Who or what defines “serious” or “high” art? What exactly is “low brow” or kitsch? Are these designations intrinsically “bad”? Does great art create its own tastes? Does bad art perpetuate bad taste? Is “originality” a fixed concept, or a matter of degrees? What constitutes “beauty”? Should beholders of art strive to improve their vision? Who or what contributes to that improvement? What do we expect of our art and artists? Should we expect anything at all? Can art alter societal mind–sets, or merely reflect them? Do you see art as escapist entertainment, or enlightenment? Can “serious” art be both?

I eagerly await your comments.

Photo: “Fountain” by Marcel Duchamp, 1917