Unspinning with Trenton Flock
Last Thursday during art walk, I bumped into a man named Trenton Flock. He and I immediately struck up a conversation and he mentioned he was a writer. I asked him if he was an arts-writer. He told me art-writing was a lot of marketing and spin. I laughed in complete agreement and then told him I was an arts-writer.
We exchanged emails and I sent him some questions. The meat of the interview is about spin: how bad art-writing spins things, preferring one thing over another. His idea of good art-writing is one that reveals what is underneath the skin or pelt and lays these things before the reader to make up their own mind.
Lucas asks: Do you think there is a function that art-writing is supposed to fulfill?
Trenton replies: A universal duty? No. But there are certain things that good art-writing will accomplish, especially in our current age:
We live in a storm of images that is often isolating and confusing. Classic art and cultural icons are skinned and thrown over machines of production to sell goods and lifestyles, and this has made people disastrously wary of these "antiquated" forms. Much conceptual art responds to this by drawing back the pelts and showing how hollow they are, what corpse, what heartless machination lies underneath, how empty life has become. Conceptual (art) is great for people who are actively seeking themselves, forming or deconstructing their vision of the world. Representational or Classic art is better suited to those who seek apotheosis, a reconciliation of their intellect and emotions through the art object. We need both, but the schools are often pitted against each other because of "market forces" and aesthetic fundamentalism. Bad art writing widens this gulf to keep people on one side of the debate or the other. Good art writing illuminates the differences and helps the reader/viewer find the best art for themselves, or rather find themselves through the art.
I could use this somewhat clumsy metaphor: A good art writer is an herbalist who can explain the healing properties of all the plants in the garden, even the multiple ways that an individual plant can be prepared as a balsam, a tincture, etc. A bad art writer is a doctor who prescribes the same pill for everyone, tells the patient to take it and like it, and collects a check from the producer for his trouble.
Lucas asks: You've mentioned that a lot of art-writing is just marketing and spin. But how do you spot that when you're reading?
Trenton responds: Working with a number of artists, seriously reflecting upon a number of genres and media, making your own work, being careful to form your own opinion and vision in all things—all of this gives one a certain instinct that will quickly set off warnings when one encounters a bit of spin. Above all, genuine curiosity is the key to seeing through chicanery of all sorts. One who is genuinely curious will not just seek the opinion of others as a bit of gospel truth to be filed away. They will seek the reasons for that opinion and critics always reveal more than they intend to a keen reader. That the majority of people do not have this curiosity or perspicuity is why we have fundamentalism and so many other disastrous things in the world. As for the effect of this tendency on art, it's more simply a nuisance...but a serious one.