Tuesday, June 19, 2007

A Toast to Critics

There's no doubt that blogs and print media often seem at odds with each other. Critics and pundits especially tend to bear the brunt of the blogosphere's ire. How dare that person publish an opinion different from mine!?! I'll show them...I'll "fisk" them royally. (I've done it myself often.) Not that there's anything wrong with it, mind you. I think blogs are one of the greatest things that's happened for democracy since the signing of the Declaration of Independence. In the darkest days after 9/11 when it became apparent to me that no one in the traditional press had the guts to stand up to George Bush (i.e., Dick Cheney) and call them on their outrageously unfounded conflations between Iraq and the New York/DC attacks, it was the blogosphere, and the blogosphere alone where I found sanity.

Having said that, I do feel through all this turbulent transition in media, some journalists (and critics in particular) have been unfairly maligned. Criticism is to my mind an essential part of the dialog I'm interested in with regards to the arts. Reading a review by
Roberta Smith, or Jerry Saltz, or, now again!, Christian Viveros-Fauné is always an education and illumination for me. And I'm not (just) sucking up (I've told them this to their respective faces). The fact is I was reading all three of them (and loving all three of them) long before we opened the gallery.

It's a point of view that distinguishes the great critics from the arm-chair pundits (of which I include myself, art criticism wise). A constant voice in the ever-moving field that helps me make sense of it all. Moreover, to my mind, many critics, such as the amazing
Holland Cotter, are heroes of the Davids (as opposed to Goliaths) in the arts. As Michael Kennedy recently wrote in an article for the MinneapolisSt. Paul Star Tribune (via artsjournal.com):

Yes, we have the smaller venues, but do you hear about them very much? Not really. We hear more about television shows, movies, traveling Broadway shows and what to wear to a nightclub than we do about the fine arts in the Twin Cities.
This city is in a quiet artistic crisis. With all of our small theaters, small galleries, music groups, dance companies and literary venues, we should be getting clear, serious criticism. We should have people working full time covering all of the theaters they can seven nights a week. There are tons of art galleries that most people have never heard of. Musical groups are everywhere.

We need the critics. Their opinions are one thing, but the fact that they can go into these small places, consider these artists and watch these performances says that the arts are a serious part of this community.

But the critics are fading away because of corporate decisions in the newsrooms, and along with those critics go the arts.
I've moaned about dwindling art criticism in print before, and as with any industry, I understand that print will need to evolve or perish, but there's no comparison in my opinion between what a good critic does and what insight I or my fellow bloggers with other jobs can offer about the art we get around to seeing. I'm not a huge fan of email activism, but I do feel the publishers of print need to know how much we value their critics' diligence in seeing as much as they do, and their expertise in making order of the cacophony. So I'll make this as simple as possible: consider what you might do that will express to the publishers of arts coverage how much you appreciate that the paper you purchase contains the work of their critics. They'd hear a good deal of noise from sports fans should they cut back on that coverage. There's no reason arts readers should be any less vocal, IMO.

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17 Comments:

Blogger Sunil said...

In terms of consideration of what I would do - I would not mind paying a surcharge on the arts review page that comes every Friday. It breathes a lot of life into the New York art world and it also give some order to the somewhat confusing world of self appointed critics in the blogosphere (myself included)... I think that the arts review page is an important artifact of any newspaper and to see some of these sections being banished from the more prominent newspapers is very sad. The only problem I see with this is that the 'arts' crowd may not be as vocal as the 'sports' crowd or the 'business' crowd (as you rightly point out) and this ‘apparent meekness’ on the part of the arts crowd may lead to the newsprint arts review sections being eventually phased out.
That said, I am sure we are looking to a future where experienced bloggers might one day charge a small fee for reading their critical reviews of art shows and the like... Balancing the views of the critics in the print media with that of the burgeoning blogosphere is a challenge that is only starting to dawn...

6/19/2007 10:28:00 AM  
Blogger Daniel Cooney said...

Good point Ed. I am constantly complaining about the lack of arts coverage as are many people. Nice suggstion to stop complaining and do somthing simple that could make a change.

Dan

6/19/2007 11:54:00 AM  
Blogger Henry said...

How about some specific proposals.

Maybe the Village Voice can be encouraged to create a national art journal, publishing reviews from regional journalists in a national journal. People in Seattle would share the load with people in Miami, but each region would get its own section, filled with professional journalism, and everyone would benefit from the combined effort.

Another approach is an insert. Art in America might expand its current "reviews" section into a regional insert, the same way that a metropolitan newspaper inserts a small "local" section for the readers who live in this suburb or that one. People in Dallas would get the Texas insert, people in Atlanta would get the South insert, and so on. (Like how Gallery Guide subdivides its market.)

These two approaches would have the secondary benefit of getting all our different local communities seeing each other and communicating in a national forum.

6/19/2007 01:06:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have written art criticism for over seven years. I am the Associate Editor of artcritical.com, and a Freelance Art Critic. I write for Sculpture Magazine and The New York Sun. I usually publish essay length reviews on artcritical.com because newspapers and magazines have to worry about advertising space and they limit word counts due to financial necessity.

I wrote full length essays on exhibitions for years without receiving a penny for my efforts. Now that I get paid for my writing it is a bit less humiliating, but believe me, art writing is a labor of love.

I am a painter and there is no greater pastime than talking, writing, and thinking about art. I appreciate your tribute to art critics. We are used to getting ignored (this includes art critics who write for widely read publications). I have sent fan emails to people like Arthur Danto and Mario Naves and their responses indicate to me that they were not used to hearing from people.

To me, art and language go together. The dialogue, either carried out in person or on the page (paper or electronic), can be just as inspiring as works of art. Go to the library and read old essays by Clement Greenberg, Harold Rosenberg, Barbara Rose, and David Sylvester to see what I mean.

Obviously the art works themselves are what really matter, but after one is done experiencing them live, we are left with our thoughts and memories. Writing about art enriches these.

Eric Gelber

6/19/2007 01:41:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Let me correct the tense of this sentence. Sorry the copyeditor in me never sleeps.

"I have sent fan emails to people like Arthur Danto and Mario Naves and their responses indicate(d) to me that they were not used to hearing from people."

E.G.

6/19/2007 01:58:00 PM  
Blogger prettylady said...

Edward, I am shocked. You do not mention Peter Schjeldahl! When, in some of my darkest hours, a review by Peter Schjeldahl has given me the Will to Continue! Peter Schjeldahl is the Uber-Critic, nearer God than Man, not wholly infallible but on a different plane entirely from those you mention.

6/19/2007 02:25:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

OK, I'll add Schjeldahl. Didn't mean to slight the great one (although, as someone once noted here, sometimes he lets his love of language get in the way of his critiques).

6/19/2007 03:18:00 PM  
Anonymous David said...

Another approach is an insert. Art in America might expand its current "reviews" section into a regional insert...

Henry, that's a great idea. When Art in America sent me a questionnaire to find out why I hadn't renewed my long-running subscription, I told them. Their magazine isn't about art in America; it's about art in New York. I suggested they change their name.

6/19/2007 04:25:00 PM  
Anonymous violet said...

And how about John Haber at haberarts,com, my favorite art critic. He has such an original take on everything. No-one writes like him.

6/19/2007 04:31:00 PM  
Blogger Lisa Hunter said...

I hope the folks at the New York Sun realize some of us buy it for the arts coverage rather than the politics.

6/19/2007 04:37:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am glad to hear that Lisa.

E.G.

6/19/2007 05:53:00 PM  
Blogger prettylady said...

sometimes he lets his love of language get in the way of his critiques

And this is a problem? ;-)

6/19/2007 06:44:00 PM  
Anonymous ml said...

I live in LA and several small magazines, well, two, have popped up recently. Artillery, which is sort of like Coagula but more refined and on better paper, and Art Ltd. which is trying hard to be a west coast zine.

No magazine will survive without subscriptions and advertising.

If you want Art in America to have regional pull-outs, then approach them with a list of galleries which will advertise in the pull-outs. Then it might actually happen.

I am guilty of this too, but artists and even galleries tend to expect somebody else to pay. I think I will just stop donating art to benefits of any kind and spend the money on advertising.....

6/19/2007 08:34:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anyone remember ReviewNY? It was a free art magazine available in galleries for many years but it disappeared a few years ago. The publisher told me he was going to "take up gardening" after he finally stopped publication. He told me the reason why he quit was because the galleries not only refused to advertise in his magazine they also refused to pay a measly subscription fee for it. Over the years some really great, sensitive and deep writing on art appeared in the magazine. I wrote a few things for them before they folded (my stuff was okay). He was really frustrated by the end of his publishing career.

6/19/2007 10:37:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry the last comment was by E.G.

6/19/2007 10:39:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I do remember ReviewNY. It closed down before we opened the gallery, but even if it had still been around, we had no advertising money back then (things were tighter all the way around back then). The quality of ReviewNY was superb, I thought. I recall the growing agony of the publisher's letters (you could see the ship going down), but that business model was seriously just not meant to be. I don't know what might have funded it (one of the new Warhol grants perhaps), but after galleries were accustomed to getting it for free, it would be very difficult to get them to pay for it then. The writing was excellent, but the aesthetics otherwise were short of the glossy perfection that permits galleries to project their own image into it.

Having said that, if a version of that were around today, I suspect they'd see a good deal more advertising, especially as so many galleries are trying to recast themselves as more serious.

Who knows?

6/20/2007 08:15:00 AM  
Blogger aurix said...

Glad you mentioned Holland Cutter.

6/28/2007 07:45:00 PM  

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