(on Dominique Nahas)
A few weeks ago I had a meeting with the critic we “voted” on to write the essay and description in our thesis catalog. Since I don’t waste my time going to GAA meetings I had no idea the critic had to meet with us, I was somehow under the impression he was simply writing an essay as a sort of credible decoration to our badly color balanced images (this idea being based on viewing last years booklet). It was sudden and unexpected when one of the grads came around with a sign-up sheet telling me that ‘so and so was here’ and ‘when did I want to sign up’. It was my understanding that painting had him the day before us and sculpture the day after, but other than that I had no idea who this “critic” was or what I was supposed to show, since my show was not yet up. I hung some work the night before and went in the next morning unsure of what to expect but rather unconcerned as well.
Following my meeting, needless to say, I did some research. So and so turned out to be Dominique Nahas, a NY based critic who is currently the critic-in-residence at MICA, reminding me of Volk’s role at VCU. All good art programs need a well connected critic-in-residence. I am also going to assume, although I could not find much biographical information, that Nahas has a degree (probably more than one) in Philosophy from somewhere prestigious. After my meeting, which went so strangely I was forced to prowl the school in search of gossip, I found out how he had behaved with others. There seemed to be mixed reports, some grads thought he was interesting, pretentious, mean, etc. One nameless printmaker in the second round was told that her problems were now his because he had to write about her work.
In a lot of ways he reminded me of Gregory, the same ideas about art, the same preconceived notions about making that come from not being a maker, the same gift for words and interpretation, only he was older, more dictatorial, definitely more confusing, much more condescending, and he lacked Volk’s charm and charisma. On a gut level I disliked him immensely the moment his questions began, and I realized that I was not really prepared to be grilled by someone so educated and particular about words, but on the other hand I think he realized at a certain point in the conversation I could comprehend, and even slightly, politely, argue back with his assertions. He is the type of person I would never like to argue with, except that I did, because I know he could eat me alive at the same time I remain unconvinced. At SAIC I came to respect those students who never made much but could talk about everything in that enviable and annoying art-speak manner, and I respected the ones who were really good at it. This critic took that same sort of idea, of course they took it from him but my experience works in reverse, and brought the discourse to a level I knew I was only comprehending slightly. I thought of Jake as he talked, and wondered if some of his future professors to be are going to sound like this.
He seemed to feel that art was about fantasy and desire. As an artist you are representing your notion of reality, or your fantasy reality through your desires, or something along those lines. I hardly spoke a word the whole time, but I was pretty firm in maintaining that art was not fantasy. I said that by him calling it “my” reality it suggested that there was “a” real reality to be found, and I tried to stress the point that what I am trying to represent is not my fantasy reality brought about by desire, but the only reality I know and the only world I can depict. Perhaps, and it seemed we talked long enough for this to be true, it morphed into the same thing. I remember a discussion with the Bayman a while back where I said what society calls art is the way in which I understand the world, and it was some variant of this that I tried to express to a man who tore apart my words with a calculated and well practiced vigor. The meeting left me a little confused, a bit nervous, and mentally invigorated. As Sonya pointed out at my thesis defense, it will be interesting to see what he writes.
By the end of the meeting, which lasted for almost an hour over what is was supposed to, I could not help but like him. It was obvious he was interested in me, why I was completely baffled, but despite Emilie’s consistent interruptions (pissing him off to no end) I was not about to chuck him out of my studio because he was still talking. If I had to nominate a spokes person for the questioned validity of my “profession” I might choose him, simply because he made what I do (or am?) sound more profound than it really is.