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					                       Margaret Olley and Donald Friend
                          Art Criticism and Art History
                      Visual Arts Syllabus Support Stage 6



                                          Art Criticism
The chief goal of art criticism is understanding. We need a way of looking at art objects that will
give an insight into the meaning and merits. The second goal is to increase pleasure. As a social
motive, criticism allows discussion about art. When critics write, they are joining in a conversation
with the art, the artist, the viewer, and with history. They are engaging the wider culture in a debate
about the nature of our time and the objects made or valued.

A critic must have a wide knowledge of art through study and looking at art and a reasonable
appreciation of the creative act either through experience or study. Critics should be able to judge
quality in relation to form and content. He or she should open readers to new ideas and emotional
qualities.

...there are two wonderful paintings, from 1947 and 1948 - Still Life in Green and Still Life with
Pink Fish - that are worth the trip alone. They are paintings that suggest a very gifted colourist. In
Still Life in Green, the painting’s dark tones allow its array of greens to hum in a lower register with
it’s mellow red fruit and a lighter pink cushion up in one corner. Similarly the following year’s
painting subtley orchestrates the pink of the fish with the rich yellow of the apples and daisies and
the khaki greens of the pears and artichoke. They are unusual, provocative combinations.

Friend’s work tends to rivet one’s attention...just because you get the feeling from every last thing
he did that he was absolutley dripping with talent. He only rarely succumbed to self satisfied
virtuousity (in his drawings of Balinese and other boys, most conspiciously), and even when he did
it is hard to leave off looking. The late watercolours here are stupendously assured. It is difficult to
believe thast the man who made them was ravaged by illness and two or three years from death.

Look out, too, for Friend’s Hill End Landscape, from about 1951. It is a small, brightly coloured
thing, but the freedom of its drawing and the confidence of its colour help it to avoid the kitschy
look of minituarist art. Sweet it may be, but it kicks with life
(Sebastian Smee, Weekend Australian Arts, 17-18/12/05).


Activity: Exhibition Review
In the quote above, critic Sebastian Smee recommends a visit to the exhibition and describes his
favourite works. Imagine you are writing a review of the exhibiton for a newspaper. Pick out two
paintings by each artist and include a description of those works in your review. Notice how Smee
also describes what it is that he likes about the work. Think about what you like about your
favourite works and how you would describe those elements to your audience.
                                            Art History
The role of the critic and the historian are overlapped and intrisically linked. In art criticism and art
history students learn how judgement contributes to the development of well reasoned accounts.
Judgement plays a prominent role in criticism in terms of arguing a case about the qualities of an
artwork and also plays a central role in how a case may be assembeld in art history.
The relationship between the artist, the critic and the historian may be understood though the:

                                           WORLD




                                           ARTWORK




       AUDIENCE                                                                 ARTIST

The conceptual framework above covers the agencies of the artworld and encomapsses a larger
view of the study of art objects. Description, interpretation, evaluation are the traditional methods
for coming to grips with a work of art. Description involves finding out all you can of what the thing
is: technically, materially. Interpretation involves what you think is the meaning of the work.
Bearing in mind that these are always multiple: personal, public, realist, mystical, pragmatic...
whatever it takes to half guess, half understand what is at stake: for the artist, for the gallery, for
the audience, or in terms of art history. Evaluation is what you think of as the pay-off. Your
judgement about whether you thought it worked or not (rather than just if you liked it or hated it).
It’s been my experience that a student who only cares about whether something is “good” or “bad”
is likely to think it’s the only evaluation you need to make. (Alexander quoted in Malyon)


Activity: Artists in History
Research the artists Olley and Friend from a variety of different art books and websites. Australian
art sites books will probably be your best bet and will have more information.

Create a timeline that shows the chronology of Australian Art from the 1930’s to the present.
Include major worldwide events and a focus on the works of Donald Friend and Margaret Olley.
Also include other Australian artists who would have been practicing at the same time as these
two artists.

Compare the works by Margaret Olley to the works by Donald Friend. What elements are
different and which are similar? Do you think the artists would have influenced each others work?
                                Conceptual Framework
During the war years, and those immediately afterwards, many artists remained determinedly
figurative. A number of artists also travelled to remote areas of the country to repond to the
landscape. Australian artists during the 1940s were responding to the difficult times and many
returned from experiences of war with images of isolation. Both Margaret Olley and Donald Friend
draw and paint from a tradition of art that takes into account the lineage of Australian and
international artiists. This means that for hundreds of years artists have been drawing and
painting the figure. Still life was made famous by masters such as Mignon and Morandi, continuing
on with artists who work with. In the case of Donald Friend who works across multiple genres and
subject matter, the audience can look back at Italian Renaissance depictions of the human figure.
Artists working at the same time as eachother often influence and are in turn influenced by one
another. Where friendships and art groups form, we often see the emergence of an art
movement or a manifesto. The role of the critic and the historian then is one of recounting art
trends and movenents and placing artists within a context. All art is, in a sense, a product of the
time and place it was created as well as being a cultural artifact. The subjective perspective an
artist uses, creates a personal response that is unique and may be valued as a creative process.

Donald had always been canny about money. He kept the prices for his work within the scope of
most people, so sold very well. “Better to sell half a dozen paintings reasonably than be left with
five over-priced masterpieces” he said when once when we were discussing values and sales of
various works (Donald Friend in Gwen Friend My Brother Donald, 1994).

“On the resale of art, everyone makes money, but the artist is forgotton”
(John Olsen. Painter and winner of the 2005 Archibald Prize).

Art dealers make a living by reselling works by respected artists. This quote demonstates the way
artists work increases in value over time. In fact many artists believe in a “resale royalty” being
established so that the artists and their families may benefit from this rise in value especially
relevant after an artist has passed away. If we compare the prices of artworks created by artists
such as Margaret Olley or Donald Friend fifty years ago we vcan see a huge jump in the resale
value of the work.



Activity
Using the words below create a paragraph that describes the relationship between the agencies
of the artworld. Focus on the links between these different aspects of art and the influences they
would have on one another.


WORLD ISSUES               ARTIST          AUDIENCE           EVENTS         GLOBAL       ART

POSTMODERN                 IDENTITY             LINKS WITH PAST TRADITIONS                VALUE

ARTIST RELATIONSHIPS              WORLD                INVESTMENT            COMMODITY

ART BUYERS          DEALERS              GENERAL PUBLIC              IDEAS         COUNTRY

COMMUNICATION              ICULTURE             MASS MEDIA           INTERPRETATION

SCHOOLS             TRAINING             ARTISTS MOTIVATION          REASONS TO CREATE ART

TRENDS              MOVEMENTS            INFLUENCED           CRITICS        HISTORIANS
        Some questions the art historian and art critic might ask




                          What is it?                     Who made it? When?




     What is it made of?
                                                                           Who owns it?




What is going on in it?                                                                   Where is it?
                                                   artwork




  What does it mean?                                                           How did it come here?
                                   How is it presented?
                                                                  Who looks at it?




Art history is mostly concerning the history of works of art and how they were made. It is also used
to understand why some artists and artworks get discussed and why others don’t.

Art criticism is more about which artworks and artists are valued by their audiences and the world.
A judgement about a work can be made and an argument must be backed up with reasons why.

Looking at artworks is a very important way to understand and begin writing about them.


Activity
Using the diagram above as a guide, choose an artwork from the exhibition and answer the
questions in your VAPDs.

				
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