Sunday, October 27, 2019

Here's The Scoop On Art Writing

In Rochester:
RoCo Director, Bleu Cease introduces the Art Writers
Thursday, October 24, 2019
photo by Alan Singer

A dilemma:  The current capitalist system allows payments for goods and services as a way of making a living, and artists and other creative types ( like writers ) have to accept this fact and learn to deal with it.  Just try to find a market for what you like to do!

In past years I was paid to write about art by editors of magazines and other publishers - but that was long ago.  Now I write because I am free to do so,  and this is another way of saying that I self-support my  creative impulse.

Another dilemma:  At R.I.T. when I teach, I often bring with me reference books to share with my class, but my students rarely show the slightest interest - preferring just to google it. If you once made a living writing for a newspaper or publishing a book once in a while, it is getting much harder to sell your product to the publishers and to your intended audience,  hence some publishers go out of business.

Where there is no visible means of support, is there a way forward for creative folks?  We will find out.....

At Rochester Contemporary Art Center this past Thursday evening I attended a panel discussion on the current state of Art Writing.  In the photo above Bleu Cease introduced the invited speakers who are from left to right: Colin Dabkowski, Karen vanMeenen, Rebecca Rafferty, Robin L. Flanigan, and Sarah Webb.

The stage was set and each panelist had a few minutes to share their background stories and bring us up-to-date on what was happening in the media.  We learned from Colin that he recently left the newspaper business in Buffalo after years as an art critic who was re-assigned to the sports desk.  From Karen we heard the story that afterimage would be published now by the University of California under her leadership.  Rebecca Rafferty told the audience that CITY Newspaper has been acquired by WXXI and that hopefully arts coverage would continue to flourish.  Robin L. Flanigan spoke about how difficult it has become to pitch a story related to the visual arts at the Democrat & Chronicle, and Sarah had some reflections on "Current Seen" - a biennial show presented by many small venues in Rochester that is currently drawing attention.

Our cultural scene needs art writers to inform a public about what is happening and why, especially now when the field of visual art is so diverse.

Then there was the question from the audience about whether the art writer provides criticism or is it just promotion?  Writing about art in a way is like translation, one is trying to put into words - something that is primarily a visual experience, and it is not that easy!

A Must Read!  new collection by Peter Schjeldahl

Along those lines a new collection from the critic Peter Schjeldahl would be a must read for aspiring art writers...not that you have to agree with every opinion you come across in this book.  I just think his way with language, the poetry of it, is worth the price of admission.  From my experience we have gone through many seasons of reading books by art writers.  When I was in grad school I had the opportunity to sit down at the dinner table with Clement Greenberg and Friedl Dzubas in Ithaca, years ago.  I listened as the eminent critic Greenberg disparaged so many artists that it made me a very nervous guest at the table.  I learned a  important lesson in that moment to not rule out so many paths to take.  Later, as an art teacher at R.I.T. my practice is to leave the doors open and not close them down, and the practice of being an artist is not such an exclusive club as Greenberg had once imagined. 

In the face of a dilemma the creative person will be just that - creative.  You have to go with what works, and if you select this direction for your life, stay with it!  You are in good company....