Saturday, August 20, 2011


In 2005, the Columbus (Ohio) Museum of Art mounted a solo show of Sid Chafetz's work. Chafetz is a  print-maker who had a long career teaching at Ohio State. He's been collected by Museum of Modern Art, the New York Public Library, and the Smithsonian. He's remained a personal and professional favorite at home, where, through his work, he's kept up a lively commentary on University life and Cow Town culture.

I reviewed that CMA show for The Other Paper, an alternative weekly, and commented that while he made humorous commentaries through his images (a professor in academic regalia runs alongside a cow, prodding it across a green field with a stadium in the background), he didn’t complicate the visual experience beyond the central image. Much of the print’s surface was left essentially empty—undeveloped. I thought his work wasn't well composed, or that it was composed verbally, not visually.

I tell this story with no animus for Professor Chafetz, a very congenial and talented man. The point is that soon after my review ran, I was confronted by his scowling better half who let on that she was highly displeased with my review. I believe that I, still new to Columbus, was probably the first person locally to criticize the artist's work.

"Who was I anyway," to write that review? She had never heard of me.

This is a fascinating question. Had I been Holland Cotter, would the review have been better received? Would my content have been received as a compliment, if I'd flown in from New York to write it?

But of course, I already was someone important; I'd made a difference, though not the one I'd wished for. I wished that she had thought about my comments on Mr. C's composition; I wished she hadn't taken them as character assassination. But for whatever reason she needed to challenge my authority, the assumption was that I had it.

Who am I to write about visual art, music, literature? I make visual art and I write. I listen to music. But, mostly, I observe and think; writing completes the process. At its best, reviewing refines my thoughts and ultimately releases me from the intensity of art experiences that would, otherwise, just blow me away.

My authority doesn't lie in my claim to have it. But it isn't in a list of my credentials either. Authority is a transaction between writer and reader, an exchange of observations and thoughts, a dialectic, I hope, on a stimulating plane.


  1. That's very interesting, what you said about the process of release in the review of the art. Similar to what I feel when I respond to authors as I read. I sort of "call and response". Almost, one wonders if they, in a way, complete each other.

  2. You make me smile, Ann. I am ready to be a loyal follower!

  3. Congratulations on the new blog! It is bookmarked, and I anxiously await the next installment....and you are THE authority!!!!