Written for speaking – John Pearson and Geoff Tuck before Commonwealth and Council

John Pearson, Geoff Tuck, "Welcome Home" by EJ Hill. Notes on Looking book launch at Commonwealth and Council. Photo by David Bell

John Pearson, Geoff Tuck, “Welcome Home” by EJ Hill. Notes on Looking book launch at Commonwealth and Council.
Photo by David Bell

August 01, 2013, 9:22 AM

Hi Geoff,

I haven’t heard any feedback about the questions I sent, so here’s one more you can answer at Commonwealth and Council.

Is there a role for critical writing that is not encouraging, not in agreement/alignment with the art – what would be called negative criticism. Would this improve the public dialogue, and an artist’s argument? Politeness seems to make artists submissive with the market, perhaps when there is one rich collector defining value – monetary value. This goes on while aesthetics and ideas languish un-articulated.

August 01, 2013, 10:31 AM

Hello John,

Yes. I like this question because it makes me uncomfortable. I think I read two questions, although I’m not sure. (in response to your later email, when you questioned the appropriateness of this question, I find this an appropriate area of inquiry for the event Commonwealth and Council.)

I do think negative criticism can be helpful – to the artist, and to the public conversation – if the writer is committed to the task and honest about her or his motives. And if the reading audience has a commitment to exploring ideas. Having said this, I would say that valuable criticisms will be those aimed at helping an artist reach a perceived goal, and also refutations by the critic of that perceived goal, perhaps where the critic disagrees with the artist’s ideas. The first critique is best conducted in private, with the artist, in my opinion. The second, the critique of ideas, is to be public, and is the purpose of criticism. Such a conversation about ideas is essential to art and culture, and requires that the critic engage with the artist as an equal partner with the artist and the public.

As to your second question, I do not find that value in the marketplace is any indicator of success for a work of art.

More to come, regarding your first email, soon.



July 30, 2013, 6:20 PM

Dear Geoff,

I thought about questions that might help fill in the blanks of you and Notes on Looking, to give some form to the conversation we will have at the book launch at Commonwealth and Council. To some extent these questions are trying to get at the value of what Notes on Looking offers through how you see it and build/write it. Also, if you prefer, I really could just ask you some basic three worded questions that would be very direct: Who are you? What is this? You do what? But I think these wordier questions might be more beneficial. So please take a look.

Give me some feedback, because hopefully these might lead to more particular and fruitful topics that you want to discuss. I want suggestions and revisions. These are maybe just scratching the surface but I have to start somewhere. As an aside, I looked at your website under the “About” tab and that seemed to do exactly what needed to be done. But, I don’t want to just recite your existing explanation.

Ok, hope all is well.

• history of Notes
• character of Notes
• writer is artist

Questions in place of introduction for Geoff Tuck at his book launch:

Ten years ago, I would run into Geoff and David on a Saturday afternoon, in the midst of a cross-town itinerary involving dozens of galleries that might end with an symphony downtown. But there was no writing back then, just enthusiasm, excitement, and curiosity (all palpable).

The Notes on Looking posts are archived to November of 2009, but you maintained an energetic newsletter before that. When did this all start? Was there a precedent for you or an impetus/catalyst?

What is the catalyst for writing about art? What led to writing and publishing at Notes on Looking? You have mentioned the lack of critical inquiry / public discussion in print sources.

Notes on Looking is not reviews. It reads as accounts, explorations, writing with a heightened subjectivity and a generative criticality. What are your feelings about the format of art criticism – in the local paper and how you practice it? Your language is straightforward and you seem to approach art in a phenomenological way. Maybe that’s just to say a sensitivity to the object, the situation, where you work through the experience as well as reflect.

(Thoughtful and critical writing is maybe how I would describe what you do.)

What gives you nourishment for writing, or what is your favorite R n R reading: fiction, criticism/theory, poetry, nonfiction, instruction manuals, etc.?

Correspondence, this seems to be how you approach much of your writing. It reads as sincere, personal but it is “posted ” online rather than posted in the mail. How did you arrive at this approach?

[Boosterism troubles me and makes things provincial. Am I being negative? You don’t traffic in boosteersim, per se, but the world is a sunny place at Notes.]

The value of community, but the skepticism of institutions: you have educated yourself from this experience and commitment. And recently you said you would recommend it over enrolling in art school. I feel that the community of CalArts for me was challenging and gratifying and something I never would have found on my own. Is your opinion based on the outrageous cost of art school or something else?

Do you ever revisit and revise your writing? Do your views evolve to entirely new perspectives?

How did you make the selections for this publication? Is there an agenda, does it reflect your interests and engagement with painting?

Do you see Notes on Looking as becoming the equivalent of what Artnet had been, a hub for reviews, articles, a web magazine? It seems that Notes might be getting more selective and more interior because of your art-making and your decision to live outside of the city in the central valley.

To me, it just seems that Notes on Looking is an organic thing that is not formatted or constrained by a particular model so questions of the future are not applicable. It will just be. Hallelujah.

Get back to me at your leisure,


August 01, 2013, 3:49 PM

Hi John,

Precedents for Notes on Looking include going to jazz clubs with my mother, and learning the strength of mythology in the explication of personal and passionate experience. Also, as we discussed, back in the early 2000’s I read every art blog that I found, from beginning to end, for a period of about five years.

The impetus for Notes came during my presidency at the Fellows of Contemporary Art. I found myself among a group of art aficionados who were not looking at what I was. I wanted to bring attention to, and add to history the art I was seeing in studios and artist spaces, at ground level.

Other publications, ground-level and commercial, were all outlets for reviews, for criticism, and I felt that there was a place for more experiential and subjective writing – intelligent, and with rigor, but from the heart.

I do find a lack of critical inquiry and public discussion in our community. A valuable conversation for me takes place among equals, and from inside; rather than from one world, the academic world of critics, who look upon the other, artists and their work.

I admire criticism and I am not a critic.

For a long time, reading plays has been my pastime. Schiller is a favorite.

Most often, in my mind, I am addressing my writing to the artist. I feel and hope that we are in conversation.

I share your feelings on boosterism. I think I use the form of boosterism to carry thoughtful critique. This allows me space for myth building. People respond to form, and they engage intellectually.

The cost of school makes it not an option, yes, and also in my libertarian heart I think that by doing things for you, schools offer shortcuts that diminish one’s strength, and the impetus to invent. Not having gone to school, I’ve had to seek intellectual growth through contacts I have sought out. I have had to create opportunities. I have been able to enter, and even to help create community. Of course, as an autodidact, my teacher was ignorant, and there are things that I lack, but perhaps this has encouraged me to be self critical, and to seek advice and criticism from others.

Notes on Looking will not be Artnet, with reviews. Again, I doubt the value of much criticism. I want Notes to be a space where the community of artists can think out loud, and converse with other.

And, to your kind words, John – thank you, very, very much. That you appreciate Notes on Looking makes me very happy and proud.


Dreamscapes of Los Angeles, A Notes on Looking Reader is available at:


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