I recently had a very pleasant conversation with a gentleman named Raymond Liddell. He is a professor of art history where I work, and in the course of our conversation he pointed out that Big RED & Shiny calls itself a journal, yet does not meet the academic standard of peer review. He felt that since our writers were not formally trained art historians, no matter how interesting their writing or how much attention they brought to artists who might be otherwise overlooked, it was a misnomer to consider ourselves a 'journal' in the proper sense.
At the time, I didn't have much of an answer for Mr. Liddell. However, the more I thought about it, I realized that Big RED & Shiny is in fact the true definition of 'peer review', as we provide a forum for artists to review other artists. I mean no disrespect to art historians, but I do not consider them my peers when it comes to creating, reading or interpreting art. Their training teaches them to view art through an historical context, while the training of an artist teaches them to view art in the present, a growing and changing beast with many heads and even more frames of reference. It is not possible to evaluate an historical moment while one is inside it, and as such those with the most complex vernacular for interpreting artwork are those who are also trained in the creation and discussion of contemporary art.
For the most part, those who contribute to Big RED & Shiny are artists. This is not to say that we turn anyone away, and our pink pages have featured writing by doctors, poets, art historian, musicians, and even one self-proclaimed art thief. What we ask of our writers is that they approach a work of art and discuss it honestly, through their own experience, whether that is an academic or visceral or even a nonsensical approach. We present our thoughts and opinions as peers, neither lofty and aloof nor worshipful and sycophantic. We are the peers of the artists we see, and gauge their work from the level of an equal.
Mr. Liddell's thoughts were very interesting to me, and I'm glad to have made his acquaintance. Perhaps I have swayed his thoughts a bit with the above text, although I doubt it. Either way, I would like to conclude with the words of a hero of mine, James Elkins, froman intereview last year:
That first year I was also teaching a course on the Renaissance in general. (Since that first year, I have never taught Renaissance art, even though it was my specialty.) I asked students to make projects for the class, so I could see what they cared about. One student got interested in the Art Institute's Tintoretto, which is a depiction of the rape of Lucretia. In the painting, her pearl necklace has broken, and the pearls are scattering in midair. I assigned all the usual readings for the student -- stuff I had learned in graduate school -- and she produced an artist's book as her project. In the book she had put all the Xeroxes she'd been reading, gessoed into the pages so they could not be read, and every couple of pages she had made a painting based on the Tintoretto. Her paintings were either big blow-ups of the pearls (one big round droplet per page), or enlargements of Lucretia's knee, which the student thought was shaped like a pearl. That was my Eureka! moment. It made me realize artists do not need to be taught art history the way that art historians think they do. They have idiosyncratic, oblique, eccentric, unpredictable, a-historical, and just plain crazy uses for history. That experience was the beginning of the end of ordinary art historical pedagogy for me.
Image found here.