When Criticism Counts by Margaret Bardwell White

The closing of Charlottesville’s Chroma Gallery has me thinking about the business of art and the making of art. (recent blog: https://streetlightmag.com/2014/01/20/breathing-room/)

For an artist, nothing replaces the value of being represented by a gallery, unless it is to have work chosen by a museum. It is a vote of confidence, a means to connect with an audience, and a way to earn money, when it works. You have a show, sell, and then go back to your studio, make more art, and show again. When a gallery closes, this ideal system goes away. But there is an alternative system, one that has worked over time for a group of artists in Washington, D. C.

Pond Life, Ocracoke 48X48, dry pigment & aluminum
Pond Life, Ocracoke
48X48, dry pigment & aluminum

In 1990 several artists, myself included, formed a criticism group that has thrived for almost 24 years, and has served to encourage the making and ultimately the sale of art, outside a gallery system. We had the good fortune to connect with Chilean artist, Luciano Penay, a retired teacher at American University, where several of us had studied. I began painting in my mid-thirties and commuted from Charlottesville to Washington to study with Robert D’Arista at American University.

Penay agreed to meet with us, as working artists, for criticism. This is one of the hardest things to find, once you are out of school–good criticism, and community. Because he was out of the country part of the year, our group met irregularly but we continued to work on our own, knowing that at some point we would show our work to each other, and under Penay’s quiet direction, explore the issues in our work. What resulted was a strengthening of our skills as artists, and also our skills in thinking and talking about art. We came to be called Group 93 from an early show in 1993.

Here is how it worked. Each artist in turn put his work on the wall–we were allowed to have one of the painting studios in the art department. First, each person, other than the maker of the art on the wall, reacted to the work. Then we talked about what worked and what didn’t work, and why. The artist who made the work didn’t participate in the discussion, at all. This was essential. And there was no effort to have everyone agree.

Venice 40x40, dry pigment & copper in oil
40×40, dry pigment & copper in oil

The work came down, new work went up. So an afternoon would pass, with a diverse group of artists utterly engaged in the process, and then going back to their studios, and working. Some members moved away, some died. New people came in. We began to mount a show at the end of each year, sharing expenses and inviting friends to see what we had been doing.

Gradually a reputation developed that our shows were a place to go to see a variety of paintings which could be purchased directly from the artists. Money was collected among the group members to pay the director, who curated work for the show. Money was paid to a volunteer coordinator who handled the essential communication to make it run smoothly.

I was a member of Group 93 for five years in Washington, and for 18 years after moving to Chapel Hill, N.C., making the five to seven hour drive each way to participate. Several of us have had other shows through the years, and joined galleries, but the ongoing meetings of the criticism group have provided an essential ground for building skills and building community.

The making of art can go on, even when galleries close, go online, go underground and reappear in some new form. The important thing for the artist is to continue to work.


Vermont #1 48x48 oil on linen
Vermont #1, 48×48 oil on linen


–Margaret Bardwell White

Margaret Bardwell White has shown her work at the Georgetown Art Gallery in Washington, D.C. and the Sommerhill Gallery in Chapel Hill.

Featured image: Aerial View, West Jefferson, N.C. by Margaret Bardwell White, 48 x 70, oil on linen


Of Current Interest

“Visions of Spring” is now on view at Les Yeux de Monde Gallery on Wolf Trap Road in Charlottesville. The new show runs through March 30 and features the paintings of Elizabeth Bradford, Cary Brown, Lou Jordan, Ann Lyne, John McCarthy and Priscilla Whitlock. www.lesyeuxdumonde.com


Elizabeth Bradford’s Mountain Island Lake, acrylic on canvas, 30 x 48
Follow us!
Share this post with your friends.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *