2.9 / No-see-ums

Critical Sources, Part I

By Art Practical Editors January 13, 2011

Image (left to right): Glen Helfand, Tirza True Latimer, Matt Sussman. Critical Sources workshop, Part I, October 10, 2009, The Lab, San Francisco.

A strong tenet of Art Practical’s mission is to enable emerging writers to refine their practice amidst those already renowned for their insight. In support of this objective, we have organized an annual workshop series in conjunction with The Lab in San Francisco. Critical Sources: Writing about Art in the Bay Area offers perspectives on the ways critical dialogue is essential to the health of the visual arts community, while providing strategies for writing constructively about art. Conversations and small-group discussions combine with writer workshops to examine the state of criticism in the Bay Area.

The first installment in the series was a panel discussion that took place on October 10, 2009, three weeks before the launch of Art Practical’s website. Moderated by Patricia Maloney, the participants included Glen Helfand, Tirza True Latimer, PhD, and Matt Sussman. They explored topics ranging from the need for rigor in criticism to the Bay Area’s visibility in an international art scene. 

In the section presented here, the speakers respond to the question of how criticism can be perceived as a form of inquiry, rather than “fixing the perspective on a work of art,” as it is so often perceived to do. Latimer notes the difference between inquiry, which suggests a goal of personal satisfaction, and a dialogical mode, which opens that investigation to scrutiny and response.

Helfand observes that as a writer in the Bay Area, a region that doesn’t have significant exposure in national media outlets, his objective is to offer opportunities for exposure, rather than asserting whether it is worth looking at or not. Sussman notes that while it is necessary to deflect any sense that a review is one’s final say, there is also the question, “At what point do you still have a critical voice while making no claims of mastery?”

This led to Latimer’s assertion that a distinction between advocacy and criticism is necessary, particularly in the Bay Area, and while Helfand claims the potential for the existence of both concurrently, she articulates a pervasive question for approaching criticism in the Bay Area: “How do you bring some rigor to an impulse that is basically a supportive impulse?”


About the Panelists:

Glen Helfand
is a freelance writer, critic, curator, and teacher. His writing on art, culture, design, and technology, often concentrating on works by Bay Area artists, has appeared in Artforum, Art on Paper, Salon, SFGate, Wired, San Francisco Bay Guardian, and many other publications. He's a cofounder of the Bay Area–based arts website, stretcher.org, and has curated exhibitions for the M.H. de Young Museum, in San Francisco, the San Jose Museum of Art, and numerous alternative and commercial gallery spaces. He has taught lecture and seminar courses on contemporary art at San Francisco Art Institute, San Francisco State University, California College of the Arts, and Mills College. He was a 2003 Artist-in-Residence at the Headlands Center for the Arts, in Marin.

Tirza True Latimer has published work from a lesbian feminist perspective on a range of topics in the fields of visual culture, sexual culture, and criticism. She is coeditor, with Whitney Chadwick, of the anthology The Modern Woman Revisited: Paris Between the Wars (Rutgers University Press, 2003) and the author of Women Together / Women Apart: Portraits of Lesbian Paris (Rutgers University Press, 2005). She also is an independent curator whose is currently collaborating on a major exhibition about the life and afterlife of Gertrude Stein, which will be organized by the Contemporary Jewish Museum, in San Francisco. Tirza's teaching, like her research, explores the intersection of visual and sexual cultures. Her interests include the emergence of lesbian and gay visual communities in early twentieth-century Paris; collaborative and participatory art practices in contemporary art; new genres of public art; the visual politics of identity; art activism; and the history of photography. She is an active member and former cochair of the Queer Caucus for Art, a College Art Association–affiliated society.

Matt Sussman is a freelance writer and editor based in San Francisco. His writing on visual art and culture has appeared in the San Francisco Bay Guardian, SF360.org, and Art in America, among other publications. He is the former managing editor for Flavorpill. Sussman received his BA in Modern Literature from University of California, Santa Cruz, in 2003.



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