Project 14


My idea is inspired by the parable of the Blind Men and the Elephant, and it speaks to both the increasing multiplicity of voices on the Web and the growing questioning of professional critical authority. The fact is, of course, that criticism IS subjective, no two people see the same event or object the same way, and the way we express our opinions varies according to our gifts with the language, our levels of insight, our temperaments, and so on. And yet it’s surprising how often multiple critics do unwittingly express something of a consensus opinion. This happened, for example, with the new “Spider-Man” musical on Broadway.

My idea is that we take a team of critics to the same event–a play, say, or an art exhibit, or a new architectural design–and ask them first to write individual reviews without conferring with each other. Then that would be followed by a group discussion of the piece under review. Then the question becomes: Do you stick with your original review, or do you revise it based upon the feedback you’ve just heard? If the latter, it would be fascinating to compare the original review with the revised one. We might learn from this something about the nature and practice of criticism, and about the extent to which opinions of art are shaped by exposure to other opinions.

Another thought is to have the group of critics–say four or five of them–engage each other in a series of posts on the Web. An example of this is the annual Slate Magazine discussion of the year in movies, which always features a small group of critics battling it out defending their favorites and, in some cases, attacking those of the others. I always read it because it’s lively and interactive, at least within the group.


I was inspired recently by the New Yorker magazine’s use of cover images created by David Hockney on his iPad. It would be interesting to locate and interview Los Angeles artists who are using the iPad and other recent technologies to create new-media art. Sometimes that art would be fairly traditional in the end result, a la Hockney, or completely new forms. I know of artists in Chicago, for example, who are using digitized weather data to create sculpture, or motion sensors that collect information on streets or inside buildings, then fed into a computer program that creates a dynamic visual analogue of that movement in real time.

The product of our investigations could be assembled into a multimedia presentation that includes text, video, demonstrations of process by the artists themselves, and in some cases, examples of their work itself, as manifested on websites, installations etc.

Among the topics I imagine this piece could explore: To what extent does new-media art represent the future–and, perhaps by extension, signal the exhaustion of traditional artistic media such as painting and sculpture? Do new-media artists see themselves as the heirs and advancers of older traditions, or do they represent a real break with the past? And at what point does new-media art stop being simply about itself–its ingenuity, its methods, its technologies–and begin to put its high-tech toolbox at the service of expressing something about the human condition?


I’ve always been fond of the documentary films of Fred Wiseman, in which a topic or event is explored thoroughly but in an impressionistic, often non-linear manner, always entirely without narration or exposition of any kind. His art has always seemed remarkably radical me, and yet also very satisfying–letting stories unfold seemingly on their own, from the seemingly dispassionate perspective of an uninvolved observer.

I’ve thought in recent years that it might be possible to apply Wiseman’s techniques to the format of a short Web documentary, in which the viewer sees the unfolding of the creation of a work of art. This could be a painting, a play, a concert, the mounting of an exhibition or the design of a building. This of course would require some fortuitous timing–with the event happening inside fairly brief period of two or three days within the nine days of the fellowship–and would require at least one or probably two of the team members to be fairly skilled videographers and video editors. I am not skilled in either area, but I think I might be useful as part of a team in which I would function as the primary interlocutor.

If it could be arranged with the subject, I think this approach might lend itself well to a Los Angeles artist such as Mr. Cartoon, whose operation seems to lend itself to video, music, and a certain amount of atmospheric footage showing the area of town that Toon is from and his current surroundings. The result, if we were lucky, could be a hip, jazzy, moody and perhaps even moving little piece about one of the city’s most interesting talents working in a traditional medium.