I once heard an art critic tell a bunch of art students, “Some mornings I want tomato juice and some mornings I want orange juice. If you give me orange juice on a morning when I want tomato juice I won’t like it. It doesn’t matter if it’s the best orange juice in the world. I still won’t like it.” He then went on to say that some of their works he was going to look at were going to be orange juice and that they should keep in mind that today was a tomato juice day.
My first thought was, “What an asshole.” But then I thought a little more about it and realized he was admitting that his judgment was fallible. He also admitted that his opinions were not objective and were sometimes shaped by factors that had nothing to do with what he was looking at.
I still think, what an asshole, but that’s tempered a little bit by understanding the deeper implications of what he said.
Years later I got asked to write art criticism for a little magazine—so little it folded after its second issue, but that’s another story. At the Sarratt Art Gallery there was an exhibit of paintings by Margo Kren. It was her “Snook’s Jazz” series, named after her husband and inspired by her visits to New Orleans. And that was about all I got from the exhibition catalogue. I missed the opening so I never got to talk to her.
At first I felt like I was being given tomato juice and let me say right now that I don’t like tomato juice. There is no morning, afternoon, or evening when I want tomato juice. And I started writing a review that was pretty critical, but since I was working on it during lunch breaks I only had a short time to look at the paintings and write so I kept going back. And a funny thing happened. I started looking more closely at the paintings and found depth and detail I’d missed earlier. The online versions don’t really capture the paintings, how large they are, or an interesting recurring motif: thick blobs of paint like candy dots.
The more I looked at her work the more I liked it and I ended up writing a really positive review of the paintings.
It’s an experience I’ve kept in mind ever since because it reminds me that my first impression may not be the right one. If I give something another look I just might develop a taste for it.