by David Waddell
In the spirit of this conversation, I have written this in a blog style. That is, I sat down and wrote it. Most of our works through ARTifice are written as papers rather than letting it all fly, unedited in a stream-of-conscious act.
I attended the panel discussion, the state of criticism in the arts, hosted by Transformer Gallery at the Provisions Library in Dupont Circle.
Ryan Hill from the Hirshhorn mediated the event. The panel consisted of Kriston Capps of Washington City Paper, Glen Dixon from the Washington Post Express, editor of Sculpture Magazine Glenn Harper, Rachel Beckman at the Washington Post and Andy Grundberg of the New York Times.
To summarize this lively conversation, I will quote Glenn Harper concluding the discussion to Ryan Hill, "That wasn't too depressing, was it?" Well, Glenn, I didn't think the conversation was any more depressing than life usually is. The topic for the panel discussion could have been, 'Complaining About Your Job: Part One, Editors and Critics.'
Hands down, the whiniest and most disgruntled critic was Glen Dixon. Glen Dixon described his background as if he did not have a choice to become an art critic. He made it sound like either it was a complete accident or that a gun was pointed at the back of his head. Everytime he spoke, vomit spewed from his mouth. My question to him would be, is there anything that you do not have a problem with? Are you happy with anything? He complained about everything! In fact, I could list his complaints in order of which he spoke:
1. The Post general audience cannot understand art. (See 8)
2. As a writer, you have to follow rules and censors. You can't say things like "Shotgunning a beer" or "infamous massacre" (See 3)
3. The Washington Post has shackles.
4. There is too much information in the world. Overload. (See 5&6)
5. Zines suck.
6. Blogs suck.
7. It sucks to travel everywhere you could possibly want to go and see all of the shows you ever wanted to see. It seems ideal but in reality one cannot absorb all that information. It is like you saw nothing at all. So why waste the time?
8. Readers are tone deaf and illiterate (when asked, why do critics only describe rather than criticize?)
Glen Dixon loves himself but is mad that he is writing blurbs for the Washington Post Express. He has fallen short of his own goals and dreams. To compensate, he took every turn he could to speak. And each time, it was negative. Just because you cannot land your dream job does not mean that you have to insult your audience. I was offended just listening to him and I consider myself in his target audience for 'his ideal writing situation.' I am an educated person. In fact, his current audience which he insists on trashing (Metro commuters riding to Capitol Hill) are probably literate as well. What makes Glen Dixon so special that he is more literate and less tone deaf than the normal person?
Glen Harper, the editor of Sculpture, was much more eloquent and articulate about explaining the situation and role of the critic in today's world. He says that those pitching articles must know the overall scope of the field. Problematic pitches for him are those that do not contribute to the goal of his publication. A large portion of proposed articles are written by people who have never read Sculpture magazine. On the flipside, he explains that successful critics, such as Lucy Lippard, struggle with maintaining their original voice after an editor has chopped up their work for publication.
A discussion point of the evening was: where is the future of print and the future of critique? Harper points out that the 80's were hot for non-profit magazines. Since the collapse, however, only ART Lies exists. Capps adds other critical outlets to the dialogue. Web-based Glasstire and its contributors such as Chris French fill the void for alternative voices . Students and artists who are motivated and interested also voluntarily fill the gap. Austin based Okay Mountain is an example.
Hill suggested that the internet has brought writing to an informal and pedestrian level. Grundberg agrees, stating that blogs are unedited streams of consciousness that fulfill a grassroots function. The Post or Times would never tread in these areas.
Later, Grundberg questions blog authors. Why would anyone want to write if they were not being paid? It is not very economical. I thought this was a strange comment. I wonder if any members of the panel have a love for art or for writing. Maybe the joy and love was taken out of it by having a 9-5 job. Once you get paid to do something, the fun stops. I think that people who maintain a blog have a compassion for whatever they write about. That is the beauty of this type of writing. You do not have deadlines. You do not have to be forced to write about art which you feel indifferent about.
Overall, the panel was very hesitant to promote the blog. Harper maintains that the print version has a certain aura and documentation quality. If an artist is featured on Sculpture magazine's website rather than their printed magazine, the sculptor is usually angry. Material still dominates, adds Hill. Or does it? Dixon polls the panel audience. Who even reads blogs? 80% of the group raises their hands. Dissatisfied he emphasizes, but who reads ART blogs? 75% He is gonna prove his point somehow. But who revisits those same sites? 50% Then an older woman behind me screams "Get with the times!"
Harper references 18th century salons and Boudelaire's Triumph of Art for Public. He states that criticism is about the public. Blogs are pretty much for the public. What a great way to hold a forum for the public...if only someone would listen.
The last hot topic was in the Q&A session. What do you have to say about critics being more descriptive than critical? All agreed that, in fact, they were critical in their describing. I found their answers to be frustrating and beside the point.
Grundberg: How is describing not critical?
Beckman: We are not critical out of fear that we will run into the artist at the grocery store. (Later, she was questioned about that answer, in which she answers, 'well, actually, I am not a critic. I put myself in a hypothetical situation).
Dixon: Readers are tone deaf and illiterate.
It is amazing how writers could not answer this question without blaming the audience or the artist. My final question was, where is the actual artist in all of this? The critic was central to the conversation. However, the artist and art was at the furthest periphery.
Out of all of this, I have a list of sources to look at:
Bad at Sports Podcast
Also, I would advise checking out the Provisions Library at 1611 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington DC
It is a great source which our city has. I just learned about it and will take advantage of its existence.
- "Just spell my name right." Warhol
-"Be passionate, partisan, and political" Baudelaire
-The most money being spent in art right now is contemporary art, artists that are alive and currently making work.