Thursday, September 18, 2014

Some New Thought on Posts and Comments

January 21, 2010 by  
Filed under why painting perceptions

I recently posted about an artist, Larry Cohen, a California landscape and cityscape painter painting large plein air vistas of LA and San Francisco in a painterly realist style. He has shown in some major galleries on the west and east coast. He talked to me on the phone and gave helpful background information about such things as his study with Paul Wonner and the influence of Monet’s early plein air landscape on his work. The article was positive and showed many examples and details of his work.

However, I just deleted the article and comments in response to the artist’s request to take it down. The artist (and his wife) appearently didn’t understand that comments could sometimes be negative as well as positive. The first few comments had some negative criticism in regard to his use of color. I encouraged further open discussion and critiquing in the comments and included some criticism of my own.

Many times I’m not able to actually view the work in real life so I primarily provide background information and quote where I can from the artist or other sources. I may give a positive response to the work but rarely would I write a negative review in the actual post unless I saw the work in person. Most of the artists I write about are serious, professional artists whose work have national reach and interest. Of course I like some work better than others but almost all the artists I post about I respect and admire on some level. However, this is not a blog to promote the artists work or career. It a means to let other painters (and anyone else) see and discuss work they might otherwise not get an opportunity to. The comments are a place where actual criticism can occur, everyone should understand here that comments are based on the imagery posted and not from real life. Also, people should understand that the comments are just opinions.

I decided to remove the post. I will try to figure out a way to better handle the issue of people critiquing professional artists in the comments and to make sure future artists are aware that this is a public “forum” and people are encouraged to speak their minds so we can all learn from the input from the many terrific painters who visit this blog.

Of course, being public also means that some people might say something wacko, mean or even slanderous. That’s where I will have to step in more. One person suggested if there was a questionable negative comment posted that I first send it to the artist to give them a chance to respond. That might work, depending on the artist, but I can see how that might get complicated quickly. (I certainly don’t want to stand in the middle between a famous but touchy artist and some young art student saying something like “this is just couch painting for rich old ladies”!)

However, most people who comment here are very talented professional painters who understand how difficult making a living as a painter can be and the importance of relationships and reputation in the art world. People who comment here have been almost always respectful and fair but find ways to speak their mind about the work. I want this to continue, to give a means for like minded painters to talk to each other about all the various issues central to their art. I am thinking that eventually, in the coming months, I will incorporate a true forum where discussion is far more effective and people can initiate posts on their own.

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Comments

21 Responses to “Some New Thought on Posts and Comments”
  1. Philip Koch says:

    About color in painting- I’ve pretty strong opinions myself about color in paintings. I am glad to say I can enjoy some color chords used by others that I’d probably never use myself (some of Wolf Kahn’s for example).
    Monet I absolutely love most of the time, though his most famous work, the nearly abstract late water lilies series, leaves me cold. I came to piece with this all the same way I learned to stop arguing with my dear wife about her curious affection for black licorice, a flavor I liken to poison. There are just some mysteries that have to left unanswered…

  2. Neil Plotkin says:

    I feel that Larry Cohen’s response is very understandable. Many of the people on this forum are artists trying to make a living (or at least better work), and it doesn’t help to have our work focused on in a negative light. Larry Cohen had taken the time out of his day and sent in resources in order to participate in the blog. So I think it’s fair to say, his expectation would be that this not be a negative experience.

    The forum allows comments to be broadcast without much of a rebuttal. People tend to be more constructive when talking one on one. In order to keep information flowing and yet prevent the broadcasting of negative comments, I would suggest that you remove posts that might be seen as negative and forward them to the artist so that they can get feedback and I would also contact the person who posted and see if there would be another way of discussing the work. I know this sounds a bit like policing your blog but the comments are negative.

    I feel that your blog is a very good cross section of artists that many people are interested in and would love to see it grow from this difficult discussion. I would suggest that you do a posting on the role that we play as participants in blog forums and perhaps what would be a better way to address the issues that David Marshall brings up – which are very valid.

  3. Randy Grebel says:

    Dear Larry: HELLO! This is a public forum and artists tend to be opinionated at times. Most comments will be positive, but not all. Neil- “Remove posts that might be seen as negative…” Please define “negative” and get back to me. I’ll see you in a couple of years.
    His fellow artist at one of his first openings laughed at Barnett Newman. He did not like it but he knew what his art was at what it meant to him.
    Keep painting from you heart and soul. That’s what counts, no matter what any says about the finished product.

  4. Ken says:

    I enjoy your blog very much, and am new to it. I have learned from it, and did not read the specific comments in question. But, here’s a suggestion, if you don’t mind. Usually, misunderstandings occur when statements are not throughly explained. If someone has something negative to say about a work, perhaps their comments can be better understood if they explain in detail exactly what they mean in terms of the ideas and space in the specific painting? This is usually the missing component of criticism. It is easy for us to make general or simple statements, and more useful and more challenging discussions may be the result?

    • Larry says:

      Ken, Excellent suggestion and probably a big component of this latest issue was the way the criticism(s) were worded (or lack of the right words) In our busy worlds it’s easy to rush through when writing a comment on a blog, a few extra minutes to reflect on what you’re writing and careful edits can make all the difference.

      Randy, good points thanks for writing that. Sometimes painters don’t tend to get much real feedback on their work as they get older – so when they do it can be a bit of a shock (I can speak from experience on that one!) But we also need to realize the criticism is just some guy/gal on the internet who has their own agenda and probably has little or nothing to do with your agenda. (but when everybody is saying the same thing, it’s also a good idea to keep an open mind that they might be on to something….

      Neil, Thanks for your comment. I needed to hear what you said and helped me to make my decision.

  5. Neil Plotkin says:

    I agree with Randy in that this is a public forum and we are all opinionated and sometimes feel very strongly about paintings. I just feel that in order for Larry to continue to get the cooperation of artists – some that we like and others less so – there needs to be some sort of respect given to the people who participate. You can’t invite someone over for dinner then proceed to tell them their faults without having some sort of ramifications. Artists won’t be willing to speak to Larry about process and inspiration if they feel that doing so will only lead to ridicule. I would hate to not have heard what Michael Kareken or Sangram Majumdar had to say about their work because they felt that there was no upside to speaking with Larry. This being said, Randy Grebel and Michael Marshall are right in that people need to be able to discuss what they think works or doesn’t work in a painting. I’m not sure it’s an easy balance but I would prefer to hear what the artists have to say about their work rather than not hear their comments about their work.

    • Larry says:

      I agree with a lot of what Neil is saying here but the logistics of moderating comment criticism is daunting. Every artist will no doubt have varying thresholds of tolerance for hearing criticism. What may seem gentle critique to me could seem outrageous to big egos and some artists thrive on heated discussion and would be bored to tears if all we did was clap. I don’t want to scare away any artists but I also don’t want to inhibit discussion among the people posting as well. I’m starting to thing the solution might be to ask the artist if they are ok with comments being available and I’ll make it clear somehow that some people like to talk about the work – might encourage them to participate more as well in the comments. If they seem skittish about strangers talking about their work online then I can turn the comments off. (I think I can do that anyway)

      Another way to solve the problem is that I am getting more and more ready to take the plunge and start up a real forum that would be another part of this site. I would want the forum to be completely free to talk about anything relevant. People could start their own threads and could talk about the work away from the actual post. The forum would be semi-public – in that you would need to subscribe to post and I will have to look into whether or not the search engines would be allowed to index the threads or not. I’m still very much in the beginning stage of thinking about it – but if anyone has any ideas or experience running a forum, I’d be happy to hear them. Of course the blog would remain the same – although in a slightly different but better magazine-like format, where there could be a few different articles and sections on the main page – rather than just the one current post. Something to think about.

  6. Hmmm, now I feel bad for having made a comment on that posting, a comment that, although critical, was hardly what I thought to be a significant career-bruiser. On the other hand, I can’t help but ask, would the same artist who is unhappy with blog comments also call the local newspaper art critic and ask him or her to retract a review? It seems to me that if you are going to exhibit, whether it’s on the web or in galleries on both coasts, you have opened yourself up to people’s reactions, good or bad.

    Editing and moderating comments will certainly help eliminate the vitriolic, the nasty, the slanderous and the libelous. But a healthy (one might say, constructive) exchange of ideas and reactions ought to survive as well.

  7. Tim says:

    Watch out, incoming rant below.

    Wow, is this still art school or something? I can (kind of) understand a 17 year old running off in a huff because someone didn’t love their work, but a grown man, who paints and sells his art for a living?

    All people cant like all art, and it should come as no surprise that people are vocal about it from time to time. I run my own gallery and I hear people talk about my art as if Im not there sometimes. I know it, but I don’t paint for them you see, I paint for ME so other peoples shitty and uninformed opinions about my art don’t bother me. I believe enough in my art and myself to know that it can take a few knocks without going down, and I also know that I have only just begun this journey of art, and I have a looong way to go. Malicious and pissy comments wont make me change route. Some people are nice, some people are ass-hats, simple as that. I choose not to take any notice of the ass-hats. Why would I?

    Some artists need to grow thicker skin. If your art/ego cant take a bit of uneducated internet bashing, then why would you subject your paintings to the public in the first place?

    I dont agree with Mr Plotkins comparison of having someone over for dinner and then pointing out their flaws being akin to critiquing someones art. People where critiquing his art, not him as a person. There is a big difference. You are not your painting! And unless the artist feels that they have reached the pinnacle of what they can achieve with a paint and brush, then they would benefit from listen to ALL critiques, good and bad and learn from them, and disregard the rest. Without outside feedback, how will an artist grow? Navel-gazing and pampering isn’t good for the artist in the long run, no matter how nice it feels.

    Critiquing is an art form in itself, there are people capable of giving a great critique, deconstructing your work and simultaneously building you back up. You walk away shaken and the brashness, but feeling like your gonna knock the next painitng out of the park! And then there are the asshats, and luckily, they are pretty easy to spot.

    IGNORE THE ASS-HATS and believe in your art enough for it to be able to take a few blows without falling to the ground.

    Best way to keep this excellent blog going with artist worth their salt is to, prior to any interview, inform them that ass-hats do exist, and that their work will most likely be subjected to some form of praising and some form of critiquing. Of course, abusive comment should always be removed.

    Best regards Tim

  8. A blog is like any other forum or news source. It is not necessarily there to promote the work that it presents. I’m surprised that this “professional” artist had such thin skin, and that he chose to remove his work because of a single critique. However, reproducing the work on your blog is consistent with fair use of copyright, and I think it was just as bad that you chose to remove the work at the artist’s request. I maintain a blog (http://www.realismblog.com) that serves as a forum for my own comments about the Contemporary Realist scene. Sometimes those comments are not entirely positive re. the work that I choose to present. I would not, however, remove the work at the request of the artist. It is a critical forum, consistent with fair use, and if an artist doesn’t like to subject their work to critical appraisal they should just hide it in the closet, rather than hang it out for public purview. Would this artist demand that his work be removed from a newspaper, magazine or book? It would not even occur to him. The fact that he provided the work is immaterial, as in those venues the works are provided by the artist or his representatives along with press releases and other supportive information. In summary, it was unprofessional of the artist to request the work be removed, and with all due respect I think it was unprofessional to remove it.

  9. John Lee says:

    my 2 cents: I think blogs are different in that they are a new medium, for one, and that they allow for a broad range of input. Most anyone can chime in with their thoughts. A negative review by a professional art critic (that may stand behind a major publication/institution: NY Times or another paper, Art in America, etc.) IS NOT the same as a comment by an often/usually anonymous person who responds to a blog post. Joe Blow Art Student, etc. (This doesnt mean that the experienced critic is always more knowledgeable, or right, next to the everyperson with a laptop, but it doesnt it mean something?)

    I want to note that I do share the feelings (the criticisms) about the painter’s work. The thoughts I had about the work the first day it was posted were more-or-less repeated by the first critic here (Mr. DM). I agreed.

    Since this topic has begun, I have been wondering if maybe Larry Cohen is maybe less web-savvy than others, again blogs are a newer medium/outlet, …I could imagine someone who doesnt deal with the internet to be very dissappointed in getting crits (there were more than one) the first time out when their work was posted in such a way. But i am just projecting.

    In the long run, I support Larry’s decision to remove the post. I am ok with it. If the artist, Cohen, had a larger reputation (I myself had never heard of him), then I think it would have made sense to NOT remove it.

  10. Philip Koch says:

    There is no easy answer about what kinds of responses are most appropriate about the work of other artists on a website such as this.

    Taking a cue from the world of teaching art might be useful. I and a lot of other art instructors I know usually try to hold off on giving a critical response to a student’s work until we’ve first noted something in the work in question that is genuinely positive. It is a very rare piece of painting that is wholly without any accomplishment. All of us, beginner and seasoned artist alike hope to keep growing and improving. Sometimes it is possible to keep that tenor alive in conversations about the paintings at hand.

  11. I consider myself a professional artist. I don’t expect nor want to be coddled like a student, by people that are afraid they might hurt my feelings. That goes for on the web or in print. The whole business about sandwiching criticism between positive comments is not really an effective teaching technique either, and I’ve been teaching for 40 years. Students know when you’re playing nicey-nice, and it costs you a measure of credibility. Be straightforward and honest, and people will respect you for it. Any website, blog or other venue that shies away from controversy will also lose whatever credibility it has.

  12. John Lee says:

    As regards teaching and positive criticism: While I have been around studio teaching most of my life, I have only been teaching myself for 6 years. And I have learned that being Positive (honestly positive) as a teacher is important. I tried being completely critical, as that is my nature. The result of that approach is that I either turned off many students (they might build up a defensive wall against me) or that I was simply discouraging. Students are unsure of themselves usually. Being positive does not mean being dishonest.

    • Larry says:

      I could have gone either way with keeping or deleting the post but it really came down to the fact that I didn’t care enough about the artwork and article to put up with getting irate emails from a very angry person (his wife). It was a lesson learned for me. In the future I will try to make it clear to artists that people can comment on the work, so there is no confusion. I agree that the artist/wife may not be very web savvy and wasn’t familiar with the format. Also, I suspect that when an artist works in isolation from other painters and whose main contact is non-painting art lovers, who only offer praise, than any criticism would amplify the volume so much it drowned out his common sense.

      Was my decision unprofessional and did it reduce credibility for this blog? Not to me – but for those whom that is the case all I can say is give it time and hopefully I’ll continue to grow and make this place a worthy visit.

      I’ve started working on some ideas for a redesign of this blog and made a target date to complete it by the end of February. I’ve decided to add a forum to the blog which will allow people to start their own threads, post images, have their own page, etc. I mention this again as I think a forum (which people’s comments would be invisible to the search engines) would give greater freedom for people to really get into talking about the artists work that was featured in the blog post (as well as any other topic of course) That way if I get some big name artist to do an interview or whatever people can better talk about the work without it being directly connected to the article which google would see. The main thing with the forum is that topics and questions can be started at anytime. There are so many terrific painters who visit this site and if they participated in the forum we could get an valuable resource for all kinds of information.

  13. Katerina says:

    I think its silly to get upset at critical comments, especially like this. If its up on the internet, its public and anyone can say anything about it. I would think that’s what the point of a blog is: to look/read and discuss.

    Too bad for the artist. I’ll just look at someone else.

  14. jade says:

    I’m sorry to hear this Larry, it sounds like you got some nasty emails. try not to let it make you doubt yourself. I did not see the comments, but I thought the guy’s work was ok, not one of my favorites, but I thought some of the things he was doing in terms of format and composition were interesting.

    I was delighted to have found your site, and I check in frequently, and I always learn something new or see someone’s work I might never have seen otherwise. I’ve learned some great stuff visiting here! I’ve always appreciated the diverse opinions and I’ve always enjoyed your own comments to work. For example, I thought your comments about Cindy Tower were spot on, and those comments were not particularly complementary. I wouldnt like to think you now feel like you can only post something you’ll be positive about.

    I guess what I’m saying is that I learn here. I’d like to continue learning.

  15. If he thought enough of his work to let a single other person see it, he’d have to be ready for the remote possibility that that person or the next one might not fall on their knees and weep tears of joy after a mere glimpse of his chef d’oeuvre. Sorry to hear you had to accommodate irate relations of the great master, Larry…Keep fighting the good fight!

  16. Hunter McKee says:

    Larry,
    You seem to be encouraging suggestions, so I will add my two cents.

    Explaining the nature of your blog to your selected artists, and giving them the option of having a post, of which they are
    the subject, removed at any time, for any reason, might be the way to go.

    You do not need to, and probably shouldn’t, explain anything to anyone if you want the blog to stay on point (art). You are the boss of this blog.

  17. Well this sure started a dialogue, huh? I’ve been doing a small blog myself and I’ve had 2 requests to remove posts. I’ve done so, though I did not feel obligated to. These art blogs are a form of promotion for the artist even with critical comments, just as any review in a paper might be (as someone else pointed out above). My only advice would be to not worry about it one bit nor change your policies in any way. If someone asks you to remove a post, you are not obligated to do so but you might as well. They may think the criticism harmful but dismissing any degree of extra exposure is only their own loss.

  18. When things become too negative it’s time to remove comments, but not the post. Some people instead of critise, try to really hurt others just because they can. If you like to keep up the quality of the blog you have to do something.

    There is a plugin that allows visitors to give comments a thumb up or down. Well, that can keep the comments tidy. If comments get too many thumbs down, they simply get deleted.

    Just make a post about your new ‘How to comment’ policy and problem solved.

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