How A New York Art Critic Slammed My Work and Saved My Life


Holly Solomon Criticizes My Art

The lecture hall of the art museum was standing room only for what was sure to be a lively discussion. Despite over 1,000 entries from 12 states the juror of the 20th Joslyn Biennial was not impressed. The juror thought of us as uneducated and that our art was not acceptable in the world of art she lived in.

Her Juror’s Statement read:

“it is apparent to me that these talented artists have little or no reference to the vocabulary associated with contemporary art and therefore very little possibility of achieving work which would be considered acceptable in an art historical reference. It is a great hope that this community, both the financial and intellectual, will support this institution and its staff in order to further educate the intellectual/artistic community”

Since many of the pieces she chose to be in the exhibit were from university art professors and Bemis Foundation artists, it wasn’t long before someone challenged her opinion. In the ensuing dialog I sensed that she was genuinely interested in helping us understand her point of view. And her point of view needed to be carefully considered. She was Holly Solomon, an important collector of contemporary art and founder of the Solomon Gallery in New York City. And New York City was where art was sold, made, defined, and legitimized.

My painting was singled out as an example of “unacceptable” art
However, it became personal when she spoke specifically about my painting: “Don’t get me wrong the work in the show is very well done, but my god, someone painted a cornfield”. I had been used as an example of someone who didn’t understand the fine art world and whose art was not acceptable in her contemporary art world. This was quite a blow to me as I was a dedicated artist, was already teaching college, and was selling all the art I could produce.

 A New Direction

Rather than defend myself with my credentials, sales and artwork, I challenged myself to re-examine everything I thought I knew. I studied what the art critics wrote, both past and present. I was determined to be a relevant artist in the fine art contemporary world. After much study and contemplation I decided that the philosopher Francis Shaefer made sense when he said: “Only when the technique matched the world view being presented could it be considered great art”.
Bendykowski with his new art
A new direction, but the same message
It took much thought but I finally came up with a technique that would still allow me to present my world view. My new work was a hit and attracted an art representative with connections. I was even accepted into a Minneapolis Art Gallery without the gallery even looking at my work. I began to spend as much time talking about my art as creating it, and it paid off. I was even invited to show at a major art museum.
Exhibition at a major Art Museum
The more involved in the contemporary fine art scene I became, the more I saw a disconnect with the public. The fine art world was obsessed with themselves – their theories, their message, with being the first to do something different. They were creating art for themselves, and did not care about the common man. And the common man had no use for their art as movies, gaming, and other new media had assumed most of art’s traditional functions.

It all came to a head when I realized that I needed to live and work in New York City if I was ever to reach a greater and more sophisticated audience. With little money and 2 young children this was something I was unwilling to do. At the height of my “fame” I put my art career on hold for the next 25 years and concentrated on a professional career that had nothing to do with the art world.

 My Life Saved

So then, how did she save my life? Holly Solomon’s statement caused me to examine closely the reality of postmodern art and not some idealized notion of art I held. I understood what she said, how the critics and galleries in New York operated, and what I needed to do to make art in that world.

It was not one I wanted to live in. It would have caused me to make too many compromises in my deeply held beliefs. It would have destroyed my faith, marriage, and my children. And that was something I was not willing to do. Looking back I realize I made the right decision.

My kids grew up in the country where they were home-schooled and grew to be creative, well adjusted adults. I celebrated my 50th wedding anniversary having been married to the girl I met when I was 15. I have the financial means to live and work on my art on my terms - not the expectations of others. Most of all my faith in my creator and savior is strong and I look forward to my journey here on earth.

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