Saranac’s third symposium tackles critical dialogue in Spokane

Photo by Annette Farrell
Photo by Annette Farrell
Saranac Symposium III

I know, I know, this blog post comes quite a few days after the Saranac’s third symposium on the arts occurred. Still, the topic of “critical dialogue” will not become old news in Spokane any time soon.

Once again moderated by artist and Whitworth professor Scott Kolbo, The State of the Visual Arts Symposium III featured these panelists:

Luke Baumgarten – Arts and Culture Editor and Writer for The Pacific Northwest Inlander

Carrie Scozzaro – Artist, Art Teacher, and Freelance Art Writer

Bernadette Vielbig – Artist, Instructor of Art, KYRS program host for Readymade Radio


Spokane is known for its nice, pleasant folks. We love getting together for parades and meeting at wineries for wine tasting and art viewing. Hundreds of artists participated in February’s non-juried art show RAW space because as long as you paid your entrance fee, you got in. The Inland Northwest publications offer plenty of calendars to keep track of artist receptions and calls for artists. We love to be cheerleaders for each other and to encourage each other to try new things. This is why Spokane is the worst place to get honest feedback that could be used to make ourselves, and our work, better.

Of course, this lack of critical dialogue can’t be blamed entirely on the good folks of Spokane. As individuals, some of us may be afraid to ask for criticism because it seems scary, or maybe we don’t have access to people who can offer intelligent and useful feedback. So, as a writer or artist living east of Seattle, wanting to improve your writing or artwork where do you go for honest feedback and criticism? The answer is probably not your best friends and family. They want you to feel like a special snowflake, and anything you do is wonderful.

“There’s nothing un-nice about telling an artist their work is shit,” panelist Luke Baumgarten said.

Luke sounds harsh, but what he is really getting at is that honest feedback is one the best things we can do for our local artist community. By learning to engage in discussions about what makes a work of art “good” or “bad” or even “blah” we will be taking a step towards a more vibrant and quality art experience. There will always be room for art made simply for art’s sake, but if we want to grow and mature as an art community it is time for each of us to learn how to engage art critically. This means that even if you totally believe in subjectivity, you can still say out loud what you think about an art work. It is the artists who then synthesize all of the feedback and then decide what to do with it.


In case you missed it or want to hear it again, an audio file of this symposium will be posted here along with past symposiums.

And if you’re dying to know more about engaging Spokane in critical dialogue but don’t know how to begin, panelist Bernadette Vielbig has posted two podcasts for her two part exploration of Kant’s critique of aesthetic judgement on her KYRS radio show called Ready Made.

Readymade, Respect Old School!

Readymade- Respect the old school part II




2 thoughts on “Saranac’s third symposium tackles critical dialogue in Spokane

  1. Wished I’d heard of this symposium earlier. I would’ve liked to attend. It’s true: Spokane likes its cheerleaders and doesn’t have a terribly thick skin when it comes to blunt criticism — and not just in arts. This is why so much of the city’s activity has the air of a high school theatrical production. I’d really like to see more adult-level straight talk (and not the McCain kind) sneak into proceedings, because it’s the only way things will move beyond a depressing mix of good intentions and clumsy amateurism.

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