Friday, September 13, 2013

Anna Stump: The Artist Considers the Art Critic

by Joe Nalven

I value the internet.  It helped me see the variety of art-making (from teaching, to insider perspectives, to involvement in art projects and presentation of her styles and interests).

Anna Stump / Google Wing
She had recently posted a teaching video on Facebook about her continuous contour line drawing. Her YouTube teaching video had over 150,000 hits without any marketing.
I even found a short video profile of Anna Stump by Lilia and Alex Rossner.  She talks about her way of painting, her interest in body image and relationship, even the notion of what we do in our bedrooms.

The more I looked the more I found:  her collaboration with Ted Meyer and the Exploding Tattoo; her place in a group show -  Mirrored image:  Women revealing themselves through art; and joining a mock competition in LA.

I suspect that many of the artists reading this have a tapestry of experiences. Putting together the sense of the artist is more than listing the exhibits and the places we can find each other on the internet.

That “more” part is sometimes tied to the “art critic” – the one who places the artist and the art-making in some sense of art history. 

But getting inside the concept “art critic” requires some further discussion. I decided to do some unraveling of the art critic concept with Anna Stump.

Joe Nalven:  Over the past several years, there's been a continuing discussion about San Diego no longer having an art critic in our major newspaper. How does that affect our enjoyment of art, appreciating art, being engaged in art?

Anna Stump:  Not having consistent criticism reviewing visual art exhibitions and events at museums, galleries and public spaces in San Diego has damaged an already fragile cultural climate here. There are critical voices writing on blogs, but they don’t reach a large public. When exhibitions are not reviewed, it’s almost as if there is no public record, and the art world’s reach gets smaller and more insulated. This affects the art that is produced and shown. When your only audience is collectors who may demand a certain kind of product, the market takes over.

I was recently in Europe, and art there looks totally different from here because there is so much government support of the arts.

Personally, because I teach both studio and art history courses, and see as much art as possible both in San Diego and Los Angeles, the lack of a critic doesn’t affect my engagement. I read art criticism in the New Yorker, the LA Times, and follow certain blogs.

The model for an independent, paid art critic is broken, and new structures for criticism are not in place yet. I think some institutions may be getting a bit sloppy with their exhibitions because there’s no voice keeping them honest. 

If the San Diego and Tijuana art scenes joined forces we could have a stronger cultural identity to differentiate ourselves from Los Angeles.

Smaller publications such as City Beat and the Reader can’t afford actual art critics. Their journalists write about what’s happening, but also cover theater, food, larger cultural events, and don’t, or can’t, write real criticism. The readership may not be looking for that. Without criticism, curators and artists are floating in a sea of what’s popular, or what sells — not what is important, challenging, worthy, or quality.

Anna Stump  /  Google Bomb
Matt Kennedy recently wrote a great blogpost for La Luz de Jesus on being a critical curator, and how many artists can’t take the truth. Perhaps this is a sign of our lack of critics, how everyone thinks they can be an artist if they try hard enough.

Related to the subject of art criticism, I’m currently curating a big exhibition — The Pussycat Challenge at ArtShare Los Angeles with my partner Ted Meyer that opens on Sept. 13.

"The PussyCat Challenge" is a satirical group exhibition at Art Share L.A. Curators Ted Meyer and Anna Stump invited more than 50 artists from Southern California to create artworks based on the theme of the pussycat, in a range of media from painting to photography to sculpture.

The exhibition playfully explores the concept of Art Show as Sporting Event. The artists have been divided into two teams, men vs. women. The curators chose the theme of “pussycat” to see how individual artists would respond conceptually, and how teams overall would tend (sexual or animal)."

It’s an interactive mock competition in which each viewer “judges” the artwork, and we use the information to award prizes. We have a panel of special judges, none of whom are from the actual art world establishment. Artists can also “buy” their own prizes.

For my own art production, I’ve got multiple projects ongoing, including figurative paintings that I’ve done for years, my “Sexy Jesus” portraits, and a series of collaborative paintings I do under the moniker Hill&Stump. 

Maybe most interesting to you would be a series of small projects I’m creating about the Border, including digital paintings created with Painter.

There's so much more to talk about —jurying, border themes, painting in different media (with and without digital technology), and having enough moxie to poke at the meanings of being an artist, with or without an art critic. 


  1. Anna makes some good points about San Diego not really being a "solid art scene/market" (for lack of a better phrase) because there is no qualified art critic writing, or broadcasting, in any major media here.

    It is sad that Papa Doug, in his wisdom to develop his vision for the community, apparently does not understand the real economics of amenities, particularly as they relate to visual arts. Papa Doug could go a long way to help buoy the arts community if he could give it ink, space, and time on UT-TV. Perhaps the arts community does not represent a valued customer-base?

    Remember, that it is advertising revenue paying for the pages and that needs to be considered when you give voice to anything. So it is easy to see, that if the hometown paper is being run by a "Financial Group" that is making the decisions regarding running the media(s) you can see that the value of delving into the arts community may not fit in with the profile of their customer-base. Plus, why pay a columnist if people will write for your paper for free?

    I dunno, I'm one of the ones who cancelled my subscription some time ago. I was particularly disappointed with how the paper cut out some of the great photographers' work and the terrible print job of the images that run - very poor quality. These days, I do believe, you will see the pages filled with a lot more people at parties - like the neighborhood papers and magazines.

    San Diego is still not clear if we are a big small town or a major city. And the newspaper, I guess it does whatever Papa thinks is best.

  2. Thanks so much to Anna Stump (SDVAN's New Contemporaries at Sparks Gallery in July, 2013) for sharing her views. We are excited about her show in LA and hope that she can bring it or the same idea to show in San Diego. And thanks to Joe Nalven for livening up the blog for us with so many interesting articles.