Archive: Issue No. 116, April 2007

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Feedback is an open forum for readers to share any comments and insights relevant to art practice in South Africa. We reserve the right to edit all submissions.

From: Rat Western
Date received: March 19
Subject: Inevitable rebuttal

Tell me, Michael Smith, do you deliberately misunderstand me for the sake of fuelling your own rather tangential argument or are you honestly that dim? Let me assume both and elaborate, not because I have been enjoying what has become an incredibly boring debate incredibly quickly but, in either your failure to comprehend or your willingness to twist what I say, you have managed both to misrepresent my point of view and fail to answer much of what I originally asked. So for you, I will explain rather pedantically much of what has already been said, to set some matters straight.

I can accept that, in your original opinion piece, there were many areas of discussion which you could not explore in depth due to the limitations of the space. The parameters of intended discussion were set down in the beginning paragraph - 'the concept of criticism and its place in the visual art environment' - and then you went on to 'Furthermore, good criticism should exhibit a willingness to grapple with the real issues of power'. Now, whilst you may not have had time or space to explore matters of economics, would you not agree, as many would, that economics is at the heart of power in the material world in which we live? This is not an unrelated side matter, yet you did not mention it, even in passing.

Then, with regard to what is so often termed 'incest' in the little world in which we practice, you missed my point entirely. I did not say that people only work with those they know, but that they are more likely to, based on past productive experiences. Despite how problematic you believe this state of affairs to be, you contradict your view by going on to demonstrate my point rather nicely when you cite Brenden Gray (with whom you worked on the original opinion piece) as an emerging artist in an experimental space whom you have reviewed. Should I see this as a potentially successful and productive relationship or should I write it off as, how you described it, 'myopic nepotism'?

I wonder why it is that you see the term 'snobbery' as either quaint or insulting. The arena in which both you and I work is elitist, and eliticism and snobbery can be interchangeable depending on where you stand. I, because of what I practice, am a snob and so are you. It is not always something of which to be ashamed. As you rightly point out, visual art (and here I assume you mean the 'snob' variety although we might lapse into the relative merits of cosmos painting and kudu on brass) can and does change the way people think.

I chose to use the term 'conceptual art', in a list of other terms which were not necessarily interchangeable, to attempt to describe aspects of the field of expression in which the kind of art criticism which we are speaking about functions. I did not use the term 'contemporary practice' as it is in fact fuzzy. 'Contemporary', when used to mean current or fashionable, may be describing words for things which fall outside of what ArtThrob usually examines.

I'm so glad you noticed the misspelling of avant-gardism. Now perhaps you'll go back to your original opinion piece (paragraph 9, line 3 to be precise) and put a nice little [sic] there too. As you can see I cut and paste it directly from your article to use, not only your word, but your spelling. The 'i' came with, as your original word was 'avant-guardism'. ( Oops! I must take the heat here - SubEd) Silly me. Far too subtle.

I did however notice your rather interesting spelling of Homi Bhabha. A 'homie' is something quite different, but the irony did not escape me, especially when you go on to get the wrong end of the stick about why I find terms such as 'black practice' and 'white practice' problematic.

I was in fact not arguing about the necessity of subject position, which I will agree is vitally important, but the fact that 'black practice' and 'white practice' are in fact the particular constructs (yes, 'constructs': a synonym for 'term' or 'expression' as opposed to the Phil101 debate that 'all is construct') which can lead to an erasure of difference. These terms seem set on defining the pra