The Art to Critiquing Art: An Insider's View at MIAD

A Response to MIAD's Interactive "New Exchanges" Exhibition

Feb. 1, 2012
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In an effort to stimulate discussion on the state of art in Milwaukee, the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design launched the exhibition: “New Exchanges: Evolving Visual Ideas and Forms.” Several interactive gallery spaces at the college were designed to connect with the city's art and culture media, generate collaborations on art criticism and allow one to attend classes to focus solely on art. This interesting concept deserved a personal, up close look.

Every Tuesday and Thursday through March 3, artist and MIAD professor Jason Yi teaches a course “Integrated Studio Art 241A” titled “Integration and Intersection.” What does that actually mean to integrate and intersect in art? On January 31, the session features a critique of the eight projects assigned to the seventeen students in the class. Yi chose the student collaborations and today the student's critique their work. How do they evaluate their efforts? A rarely agreeable topic since art can be entirely subjective.

After a brief discussion to the next project, the class examines a three-tiered plexi-glass box, about 12 inches square and 15 inches high. In the top layer, a small hole is cut in the center. The second layer holds a white quartz crystal and the bottom layer is lined with a cool, pale blue paper. Everyone in class circles the very scientific appearing sculpture to examine the details. During the course of the discussion the students ask penetrating and perceptive questions of the two artists, while adding their astute observations. The complexity of these questions and evaluations delves deeply into the art process.

Several comments include: The box or sculpture appears sterile, and scientifically looks like a museum piece. Thoughtfully presented with clean and minimal lines. Is this box meant to be a visual or conceptual artwork? Is the hole on the top layer meant to be an interactive element? Could it be a museum study piece that references a geological study?

The discussion fascinates several observers in the class because the young artists speak to the process of creation. Each student's concept, first attempts, subsequent decisions to the mediums and the materials used in transferring their initial idea to constructing and actual object or objects, including a painting on canvas, so that the finished product will communicate their chosen concept or experience to the viewer.

Each artist answers the questions, and needs to explain how certain decisions were made or why specific materials were used, why they placed them where they did, why were these colors chosen, and why was this presented to the class the way it was? Why did they choose to create this object to speak about that idea they initially conjured from their unique intellect and perspective on the world. What did this wish to convey to a viewer looking on their artwork?

Discussion in this one class alone validates the artist's intent and contradicts the assumption that art is haphazard and “anyone could do that.” The fact is anyone could not do that, nor would they think to do so, or in that particular way. These facts speak to why art can be so significant and important. Artists usually attempt to convey an idea, emotion, experience or moment in time through a two or three-dimensional form. Each student's comment reasserts art is an intentional, intellectual process that depending on how ideas, process and execution intersect in a finished artwork, this process can lead to substantial significance that will eventually determine the success of that singular aesthetic communication.

With regards to the plexiglass box, the blue paper was actually photogram paper that was recording the image of the white quartz through light rays illuminating the rock through the hole in the top layer. The hole would also allow the object to be interactive, so one could change the quartz to another material to create another series of images on the blue paper. The project breaks down the photographic process to a minimal experience that reveals the procedure instead of only the outcome of final picture or image. 

This artwork presents a complicated scientific process through an aesthetically pleasing object that was impeccably executed. After carefully focusing the comments and discussion, Yi suggests the project is an elegant sculpture that also works as a tool. Would a viewer immediately understand the entire project from one viewing or a quick look?

No, not initially, although a viewer might appreciate the serene qualities of the piece, be intrigued and wonder to the meaning of the box, the crystal  and the blue paper, which incorporates layered concepts with too little space to discuss in one column and ask questions similar to the students. These student's discussed the art for a length of time. A title for the artwork, list of materials or artist statement might help achieve that detailed communication that leads to greater understanding of an art work. Which is why a viewer needs to bring an inquisitive, patient mind along with a keen set of eyes to any exhibition. So they might examine or study the artwork in an effort to understand all that an artist instills into only one piece of art. This helps the artist and viewer in the communication process, along with an enjoyment of art on multiple levels, to expand one's appreciation of art and how it might help one better understand humanity.  

However, as purely sculpture, this plexiglass box awakens a curiosity and wonder that a viewer might have when looking at any other specific art work, installation, painting, sculpture, two or three dimensional.  Push the viewer to ask those questions the student's ask that  might send one's mind in alternate directions to experience or think about an idea or material in a fresh way. To conjure fresh emotions and thoughts are perhaps what the most excellent and superior of all art does, which is a most difficult task. Artist's take on the role of a creator and bring something into existence, which was not there before, whether a functional or non-functional object. A power taken for granted and extremely potent when executed perfectly for an individual work of art.

Then human curiosity will be peaked in the viewer while the artwork becomes multi-layered with several meanings so the intellectual and sensual experience might be diverted in numerous directions. The plexiglass box represented only one of these MIAD art projects, complex, meticulously completed and well though out. Several more of Yi's class projects will be discussed along with comments taken from the blackboards and writings posted on the computers in this exhibition. It's a first step to integrating the creative process so it can intersect with the viewer to communicate through art.

Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design presents “New Exchanges: Visual Ideas and Forms” through March 3. The exhibition changes daily, with new work and new galleries on display, so stop by several times to observe the additional artwork and comments. There will be several other opportunities to observe Jason Yi's class on "Integration and Intersection" held in the MIAD galleries through March 3. 

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