October 2, 2015

Open Letters: A Correspondance with Chilean Art Writer Ignacio Szmulewicz, 6

Ignacio Szmulewicz and I are both art writers. We started writing each other letters about art writing. This is the 6th letter in the series.

Thich Nhat Hanh drawing a circle.

Dear Ignacio,

Do you know the artist Ming Wong? Check him out, he’s one of my favorites. He told me that he studied calligraphy, just like you did. And he explained to me that in calligraphy the brush is considered to be the extension of the hand, and with the movement of the hand the whole body has to move along, and this bodily movement is connected to a state of mind. The study of calligraphy involves therefore also a spiritual training. 

This brings me to your mystical questions about writing. I’ve thought a lot about art and its transcendence. How art can touch upon something universal, a beyond, or you may even call it mystical truth. Most art doesn’t succeed in touching that beyond. It closes down completely.

I also thought about the alchemy of curating. My favorite Jerry Saltz wrote about it. Let me quote this for you, because he puts it so very well: “The alchemy of good curating amounts to this: sometimes placing one work of art near another makes one and one equal three. Two artworks arranged alchemically leave each intact, transform both and create a third thing. This third thing and the two original things then trigger cascades of thought and reaction; you know things you didn’t know you needed to know until you know them; then you can’t imagine ever not knowing them again. Then these things transform all the other things and thoughts you’ve had. This chain-reaction is thrilling and uncanny.”

Yet I never thought something mystical could come from a piece of art criticism, transmitting, as you said, this certain energy that comes about from loving art and writing. However, I can say I’m convinced that good art criticism opens up to a bigger realm, a phenomenology, starting with the art object and coming back to it in the end.  

In the New Yorker, I read in a postscript on Robert Hughes the following: “Criticism serves a lower end than art does, and has little effect on it, but by conveying value it serves a civilizing end.”  As a definition of art criticism it has very little mystical quality to it. But it’s true, isn’t it, that an art critic has a serving role, intermediating between the artist, the art work and the spectator - is it there that the alchemy can come about? 

Dorothy Parker

I do believe that art criticism is an art in itself, it can be literature. For instance, I rarely go to the theater but I very much enjoy reading Dorothy Parker’s theatre criticism, written in the 1920s and 1930s. Art criticism can be like poetry or a novel, and in the end it detaches itself from the art object it describes. If the art object survives the time or not, is then no longer of importance. I’m not interested in those old theatre plays that Parker describes, but in the particular energy that sparks her writing. 

Marquis de Sade

Marquis de Sade, who came to writing late in life and it was prison that made him do so, wrote in Les Crimes de l’Amour: “Wheresoever on earth he dwells, man feels the need to pray, and to love: and herein lies the basis for all novels.” What made you write, Ignacio? Was it in order to portray things you implore, or to sing the praise of things you love?  



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