Youth, Beauty, Leisure and the State of Local Art

After nearly a year that's passed since I wrote a post mocking Rob Williamson's photography, I finally met the guy.

He introduced himself to me last night at Dear Mom (God help us) and asked, maybe a little confrontationally, if I still wrote about art for Uptown. When I suggested that he seemed angry or on edge, he said that he was not.

I mentioned, so as maybe to clarify my original intentions, that I didn't actually think he had taken those photos with his phone, and that I was really just poking fun. No harm intended.

He told me that I had shat on his life's work, which he clearly did not think was a good thing. I asked if he hadn't enjoyed a little public discourse over his series and he said he hadn't.

Rob then handed me a flier and challenged me to attend his friend's photography show tonight at Ritual. “If art is dead” (or “if art isn't dead”, I don't remember), he said, “then come see my friend's show. He's amazing.”

At the risk of opening up an old wound, here are some thoughts I have for Rob and other up-and-coming photographers:

If taking flattering photos of my cool-looking friends were my life's work, I would hope that someone in my life had the presence of mind to shit on it, so that maybe some day I could use my technical abilities (which seem to be in tact in Rob's case) to make something worthwhile.

The purpose of art is to challenge and inspire—to save our human minds from the mundane. The purpose of art is not to assure our attractive friends that they're doing a good job participating in this carefree, precious lifestyle young San Franciscans seem to be so obsessed with.

The prevailing culture in our fair sub-climate is undergoing a huge influx of wealthy young people who glorify the menial values portrayed in Rob's photography (youth, beauty, leisure, backpack ownership?). As a part of the shrinking creative demographic, it's the duty of Mission artists to challenge their audience's cultural view, imagination, and sense of beauty, rather than cater to the new money's bland, charming-ish taste.

I'm afraid that until Rob's process holds these intentions in mind, his photos will continue to be more or less as valuable as the Instagrams they so closely resemble.

I will not be attending Rob's friend's show at Ritual tonight, because, as much as I enjoy being hated by young photographers IRL, I've already checked out the photo series in question, and discovered that it's a series of photos dealing mostly with apartments as seen from the street—a view I will just as easily enjoy on my walk home from work this afternoon.

Comments (52)


Thanks for the reminder that your judgments and writing are still horrible.

Tiger Lover? Nice.

you could’ve written the same thing about missionmission

Why are artists so bloody thin skinned? Have tall boy and get over it already.

More than fair, very accurate depiction of the constant influx of bad lazy immature artist who can’t seem to take any challenge or criticism.

If that’s his “life work” he’s either the laziest or most talentless artist on Earth. Possibly both.

Or he’s simply still young, in the whole scheme of things. I mean, how often is it that an artist is truly recognized for their talent/gift in their own lifetime, let alone within the first thirty(ish) years of their life. Give the dude a break.

yo Rob: your friend’s photography is painful and bad, but congratulations on Trife Life Apartment Portraiture getting its first grown-up art show

Giving the dude a break is not going to help push his art to more interesting levels.

It appears that you mostly post about shows for bands that create music that isn’t considered challenging or inspirational.

If you’re ok with that, why do you have such a hard time accepting people who create something in the world photography that doesn’t meet your exacting standards?

Go watch Ratatouille and realize that being a “critic” doesn’t actually make you superior. Shitting on people who are making things makes you look like a mean person and it does not make the world a better place.

Have a nice day.

Remy! Yes. While some of the music I write about isn’t mind-blowing, I do try to find artists that I think have potential and lots of the time I’m honest and vocal about the shortcomings of their projects. Thanks for keeping an eye out, though.

Yes, critics should only say nice things. That’s the true nature of criticism - unabashed praise for all. In fact, the first chapter in the critic’s handbook is titled: “If You Don’t Have Anything Nice To Say, Don’t Say Anything At All.”

Next, you should say “can you do better?” That’s very popular with people who feel personally insulted by a critique. They forget what criticism is and just try to deflect and misdirect.

Sierra, I’d also like to point out that if you want to avoid “a huge influx of wealthy young people who glorify the menial values portrayed in Rob’s photography (youth, beauty, leisure, backpack ownership?)” then Dear Mom is probably the last place in SF you should hang out in. I don’t understand why anyone goes there. It’s awful and has become a a central hangout for the vapid SF culture you are talking about.

Agreed, Ted. As I’m sure you know, sometimes you must base bar decisions on convenience rather than esthetic. And it’s really not bad if you tune out all the people.

Well said, Sierra. I too find this trend infuriating and boring at the same time.

Wow that around town show is horrible. I have a bunch like that I took with my brother’s just-back-from-Vietnam Instamatic when I was 7.

I would be careful about proclamations though

The purpose of art is to challenge and inspire—to save our human minds from the mundane. The purpose of art is not to assure our attractive friends that they’re doing a good job participating in this carefree, precious lifestyle young San Franciscans seem to be so obsessed with.

Yeah, maybe or maybe not so much. It is what you believe, you wrote it after all, but I’m not sure how that view holds up to even passing scrutiny. I tell you waht, I’m not interested in being saved by no body or no thing.

the artist should be proud that his (otherwise totally pedestrian) work inspired an incisive and valuable statement about some really pressing socio-political shit.

Mocking bland, uninspired art hung on the walls of cafes and bars is like shooting fish in a barrel in this town, but if someone were to do a blog of just that I’d totally read it.

Thanks Sierra, it’s a good thing we have you to tell us what is and what isn’t art. Without this, I might have almost believed that there is beauty in the mundane! It’s good to be reminded once in a while that photographing your cool friends and random strangers in the street is a completely useless endeavor. No one cares, right?

If “finding beauty in the mundane” is what makes art, there are literally millions of artists walking the streets, doing just that, every day, posting to Instagram, Twitter, flickr, etc. If we’re all artists, that’s great, but the term starts to lose meaning at some point, doesn’t it?

The difference between this and most instagrams is intent. That’s all it takes to claim artistry.

i’m not taking a position on the work or your review of it one way or the other. but i noticed that your critiques of the work were general/vague, along the lines of it not being “worthwhile”, so i was wondering what specifically you do consider worthwhile as art, and why?

Did someone call you out on having a crush on Rob or something?

Of all the things to get upset about in San Francisco and specifically the Mission, this dude’s photography - regardless of its intent, audience, or quality - does not seem like one worthy of mention and to argue so is a stretch. If you’re trying to save face from a prior posting which was called out, and correctly so, for being mean-spirited and frankly pointless, that’s your prerogative. But your critique comes across as quite transparent in its personal ax-grind.

You say that the “purpose of art is to challenge and inspire.” Well, before throwing stones maybe you should apply those same standards to your posts on here. Writing about precious bands you like and poking fun at some local photographer who takes pictures of a lifestyle you don’t care for is neither challenging or inspiring. Glass houses and whatnot.

A writer you are

That guy needed some candid feedback and maybe a little tough love. Good on you Sierra.

Wine criticism is tradition defending itself against the three armies of the Goddess Stupidity: the army of amateurs who are ignorant of tradition; the army of conceited eccentrics who believe tradition should be suppressed by a stroke of the pen in order that the definition of what is truly great wine may begin with them; and the army of academicians who believe they maintain tradition by a servile imitation of the past.

The desire to link art to life, beauty to truth, justice to goodness almost infallibly leads critics to utter a host of stupidities; a critic who ignores or represses this concern, and contents himself with being no more than an amateur taster or an historian of wine avoids covering himself ridicule, but at what cost. No one reads him.

Judging a wine is virtually the same mental operation as judging human beings, and requires the same aptitudes: first a real love of wine, and inclination to praise rather than to blame, and regret when a complete rejection is required; second a vast experience of all manner of wines and winemaking; and last, an awareness, openly and happily accepted , of ones own prejudices. Some critics fail because they are pedants whose idea of perfection is always offended by a concrete realization. Others fail because they are insular and hostile to what is alien to them; these critics, yielding to their prejudices without knowing they have them and sincerely offering judgments they believe to be objective are more excusable than those, who aware of their prejudices, lack the courage to enter the lists to defend their personal tastes.

The best wine critic is not the one whose judgments are always right but the one whose essays compel you to taste and taste again the wine he discusses; even when he is hostile, you feel that the wine attacked is important enough to be worth the effort. There are other critics who, even when they praise a wine, cancel any desire you might have to drink it.

Artists should be open to constructive criticism.

Bloggers should be ready to get slugged at the local bar when they run into the people they mock from the safety of their computer.

I think you need to rethink your approach to art criticism. Gerneral disregard for context, approach and the artist history have a lot to do with it…none of which you take into consideration. If you look at Rob’s work in SF over the last 7+ years he was shooting and documenting in that style before smart phones, before instagram, and probably has one of the best documentary catalogues of a certain portion of San Francisco’s residents life than any other photographer in the city.

Couldn’t have said it any better myself.


Here’s the thing though. You didn’t give Rob any sort of critique that may have actually been useful to him for the benefit of his future photography, and you weren’t “poking fun” in a clever or entertaining way. Obviously artists need to be able to take constructive criticism/feedback/guidance, but you didn’t provide that. Your original post was just childish & mean, and now you’re going on about what is and isn’t the purpose of art? You don’t get to decide why other people make ~their~ art. Maybe Rob’s photography IS driven partially by a desire to document a time in his/his friend’s lives, in history, in San Francisco. What’s wrong with that? How is that not art? Joseph Sterling did the same thing photographing teenagers in Chicago in the late 50s/early 60s… is that not art?


I see a lot of people complaining about the abusive nature of Sierras criticisms of Rob’s work. Im also an artist, can I talk shit about robs work? am I qualified to critique such an amazing artist as Rob? people, I have an experiment for you- stop what your doing, look at your work, art, music, photography- etc- does anyone care enough about your work to pay you, put a spot light on your content, give you a group or a solo show? yes? awesome, your an artist, no? awesome your an artist?

We compromise and give in to bad art because we want to be nice to each other, or some shit; well tough- grow up, realize that sometimes art or art criticism in not nice- deal with it. People, buyers, critics, owners will disagree with you, will give you feedback, good or bad; deflate your ego a bit, take it like an adult and grow.

For those who think that criticism over the internet should be responded with violence-
 man what a bunch of wankers!!!!
Can we get past the 3rd grade?

Is Rob a small kid who cant defend his own work, either by making batter work or “explaining it” to us ignorant masses.

Did he start this series before instagram? yeah, sure. Does it make it any more or less interesting? nope- I would have yawned at these photos 7+ years ago.

Deal with it, make better art & don’t be a child about it.

I don’t disagree with anything you said… It’s just that Sierra keeps beating this dead horse. His is what? Three blogs about it now? She’s the one being a child about it – a bratty little shit. Move on, already.

A single post over a year later = “keeps beating this dead horse”?

My, how that phrase has lost all meaning.

Bratty little shit? Is that what you call women who have opinions you don’t share?

If I were a dude, I’d be a “jerk”, right?

Your infantilizing insult smells pretty sexist to me. Check yourself, big guy.

Oh come on. I’m as feminist as they come but that’s just grasping for straws. Either come up with some intelligent rebuttals or just go away.

Your musings on “Youth, beauty, leisure, and the state of local art” (holy shit, could that title get any more pretentious?) are vague and irrelevant, your critique is unconstructive, and your definition of art is just wrong. Yeah, artists should be able to take critique, but you’re just shitting on someone’s work to make yourself feel smarter.

Come on. They’re nice enough photographs in a fucking bar (or coffee shop). This isn’t the MOMA, and there is way shittier art out there than this dude’s. Get off your high horse.

Now please go do something productive with your time.

Eh, I don’t see it that way. I think she stood behind her words, and offered more explanation as to her reasoning. Instead of just snarking and snipping she provided a bit more meat to her critique. Two (or whatever) posts in a year - is nothing. And even if she is tilting at the windmill of bad photography exhibitions, it’s a noble cause.

No. I don’t even know if I disagree with your opinion but I do think it was based on some astounding misconceptions and assumptions. I think you have a very narrow and rigid definition of art and that your tone has been consistently condescending and that your need to rehash this again is kinda petty. I didn’t call you a “bratty little bitch” or other loaded gender-centric slurs. I’d use the same words regardless of gender.

The post I responded to characterized Rob as “kid-like” and closed with a challenge to not be a “child” about criticism. That was the context for which I framed my reply.

I’m willing to buy in on “everything is art,” but that doesn’t answer the question of whether it’s any good. So instead of categorical disagreements, let’s get on with the qualitative ones: if you have no concept/motivation behind your “work,” other than “I like taking pictures of neat things I see on the street,” your art is probably not very good, *unless* you have some sort of mind-blowing formal approach to doing so.

And yes, I am someone who believes the barriers to entry to being a “photographer” are too low. “I took a picture! I’m an artist! Someone told me I just need to ‘intend’ art, and I’ve made art. Take that, Dad! I’m never going back to finish my senior year at Pomona!”

The barriers to being a “critic” are possibly even lower.

And a comment writer, even lower womp womp womp

Yeah, because people are constantly running around proclaiming themselves to be a “comment writer.” Womp?

I think you keep missing the point. Your criticism really doesn’t even really come across as interesting, or valid. After your initial postings on this I quit reading this blog for nearly a year. I felt like taking a shower after your first posts on this subject. I think posts like this don’t represent art criticism, but more this smarmy, abusive, tone that Gawker and others seem to readily propagate like a group of teenage girls. I don’t know exactly why this subject angered me so much. I usually enjoy a good lashing when it comes to pop culture, art, and music. I’ve just never seen it so virulent and lacking any intellect, witticism, or humor. This tone should be reserved for conservative rags, and race baiting hate mail. It seems like every blog you write, and ever response you give in the comments keeps bringing me back to this study I read yesterday about sadism, and its prevalence in every day life. I think its time to take a nice long look in the mirror:

P.S. Since we’re pointing out flaws, your post has a few grammatical errors.

Please share in quotations, anything that Sierra wrote that approaches “race bating hate mail”? When did mediocre lazy artist become an endangered discriminated minority? Also claiming that Rob is the victim of internet sadism is sad at best and delusional at worst. Robs art work gets a bad write up, but at least he’s getting some press, right?

Dont Cry for me San Francisco!!!!!! Because Im an adult and can take criticism-


I guess you haven’t read the Drudge Report lately. Self-aggrandizing, holier than thou, angry, and completely self-absorbed? Check, check, check, and check!

This isn’t criticism though. It’s more art vigilantism. How often does this blog write about art? This just seems like picking on some poor guys bar art for some sort of sadistic pleasure. It isn’t like this is Norman Mailer taking down Gore Vidal. This is just someone using this blog as some sort of demented pulpit to shit all over some guys art/hobby/creativity. Am I the only one that just sees this as inherently cruel? When is she gonna drop it already? Criticism isn’t rocket science. It can be done in a smart way. This just seems vindictive. I read something earlier today that’s a good example of the right target and the write way to write critically (and humorously) about art:

I was not aware that Sierra started writing for the Drudge Report?

So now that you cant back up your “race bating” claim, Sierra is an “art PUNISHER”?

Interesting, how many people have died in Sierra’s vigilantly rampage?

I mean talk about hateful & cruel.



He wasn’t accusing her of race-baiting in any of her articles about Rob. He was stating that her tone of writing should be reserved for that intention and that it’s innapropriate in this context.

I also find it interesting that people say Rob should be open to criticism and that he can defend himself rather than his friends sharing their viewpoints here but Sierra and her writing are supposed to be somehow protected from the same scrutiny.

(Hi Ryan!)

Sierra, please describe your life’s work in approx 500 words so that we can have a chance to shit on it. This whole Rob thing is getting tiring.

“It revealed that only sadists chose to intensify the suffering of an innocent opponent when they realized the opponent wouldn’t fight back. They were also the only ones willing to expend additional time and energy to cause suffering to an innocent opponent.”