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re: Nonprofit center

Mr. Teachout: Thank you for the article on Morandi. I bought a drawing in 1960. The man died a month before I arived in Italy.
I don't have much in common aside from a small format. I still get goose-flesh at times when I'm sitting alone and looking at his work. Thank you,
Kenneth T. Coner

posted by Kenneth T. Conner | 09/07/06, 2:40 PM | permalink

re: Echoing Peck

im going to disagree..when you say most athletes cant explain what there are doing...i disagree...as an athlete i can explain very well what i am doing

posted by b baller | 09/06/06, 6:14 PM | permalink

re: A Phantom Is Haunting Cyberspace

The problem is not that journalists (if you can call yourself that) are underpaid. In your case your lucky to have a job: at the Village Voice no one understood a word you said in your lengthy dissertations. At the Daily News you were let go because noone liked your column and you consitenly missed deadlines. Missing deadlines? How about the food book that never saw the light of day. You lived off your mediocre writing wife. Remember when you freaked and left your wife and kids. Man you're a loser and are happy to have a job. For the garbage you write, you should be cleaning bedpans.

posted by Lucho | 08/24/06, 12:07 PM | permalink

re: Thankyou

This is an excellent and interesting blog. It inspires me to try to improve on my amateurish blog. btw You know Keith Lockhart is not really into ladies, so the report on his new squeeze is not really necessary. Everything else looks OK.

Do you think that Montebello is worth the money? He certainly seems better than the lousy Malcom Rogers that we are stuck with in Boston. Even Thomas Lenz has more tact than Rogers.

posted by histfan | 05/19/06, 1:34 PM | permalink

re: Echoing Peck

Damn, Jerome, this means that I can't point out that "local" and "parochial" are different things, nor that on my own blog I do pretty good review coverage of local Melbourne shows, thus demonstrating my very practical commitment to the local in an international context...

posted by Alison Croggon | 05/18/06, 11:46 PM | permalink

re: Last call

Precisely: That equivalence is being radically called into question; and I note that the professional/amateur definition does seem to be far more important to those who are "professionals" in the industry sense (that is, they're paid for what they write, unlike the rest of us, and believe that this lends their views validity).

And I'm sure many of these "professionals" are "amateurs" as well in that original sense, Alison. Which suggests that it's time to retire the dichotomy entirely.

posted by George Hunka | 05/18/06, 7:11 AM | permalink

re: MSM

Anthony has twice suggested that the basic question is "How can a freelance arts critic -- any independent contractor in a society that formerly celebrated rugged individualism -- make a living (not a killing)?" I agree. Here are some practices I've used, if only as ideals, not doing all I say, just thinking about a lot of it. They amount to "nourish creative energy" and "develop commercial organizational sense" to generate "product" and maximize "sales."

Write a lot. Write what you want to write, what you can get assignments for, what nobody wants you to write. Write blogs, broadsides, epics, hiaku, automatic notes, thoughts on thinking, polished articles for $2 a word plus travel expenses and a promo tour. It may not all sell for quite that much now, but it may all be publishable someday, somehow. Anyway, you did the writing and learned about writing by doing so. Save everything. Backup frequently. Remember, writing is fun!

Brand your writing. Make it clear it's yours, nobody else writes like you do, and people want to READ THIS!!!

Let people know what you're writing. Take writing seriously. Ask for serious recompense from those who use your writing (publishers).

Negotiate fairly, quietly and seriously. Build on what you accomplish in negotiations. Accept perks -- visibility, freedom of expression, regular work at lower pay -- but don't feed vanity before paying the rent.

KEEP CONTROL OF YOUR RIGHTS. Register copyrights and enforce them as best you can. This is a fulltime job in itself, but an essential one. Otherwise you have nothing to sell; you've sold your self for a quick fix. Don't be dumb, read your contracts, or marry a lawyer.

Be ambitious and willing to invest (financially, timewise) in work, but be practical, don't overspend yrself.

Sell one article multiple times, in different markets (local weeklies with regional readership seem likely candidates), in different languages if possible. I used to think of local, national, and international outlets.Or print and radio pieces on the same topic ((learn to work in multiple media -- write, edit, teach, broadcast, web if you wanna). Adaption is usually quicker than working from scratch, and teaches streamlining, concision.

Keep at it. Don't despair. A lot of us are trying to do the same thing, and that can be very good (as well as damn annoying). I personally enjoy working with other people (as long as they stay out of my writing!), thinking we can make more happen together than each individually. Not everyone feels that way, ok. But at least consider how you are not alone, and might do better by joining in some way, in person or online, just griping or presenting a campaign to change something changable, with others sharing similar concerns, like how to get publishers to take arts journalism seriously, or maybe how to get good work out to good readers who will gain from it and demand more.

An impossible job, who volunteered for it?

posted by Howard Mandel | 05/18/06, 6:22 AM | permalink

re: Last call

Well, George, remember that "amateur" derives from "to love". It's not necessarily a dishonourable tag. The professional/amateur tag is a rather meaningless dichotomy when you think of the growing number of "professional" critics who have blogs, or, as has been pointed out here more than once, how many blogs have arisen from the desire for more serious discourse than can be found in the mainstream media.

Reading this forum, I've been interested to see that the question of renumeration for arts professionals is as big a question in the US as here (maybe bigger - we do at least have state funding for the arts, though no tradition of philanthropic support). I like to be paid, for sure; I much prefer it to not being paid. But up to a point, Lord Copper: if, as Harold Pinter says, nobody employs me, nobody can sack me either. Like Terry, I value that independence, even if at times it is dearly bought. There are other kinds of renumeration besides money, and they are not, as some would have it, all to do with self-promotion. I feel a real commitment to the theatre community of which I am a part, and know the responses I can provide are valued in a context where many people feel their work is put out into a discursive vacuum; that is why I persist with my blog, which takes a considerable amount of work and time, although I have many other things to do, and could promote myself, if I wished to, much more time-efficiently in other ways. I'm sure every blogger has different motivations and different contexts, and vanity plays, in the blogs I read, as much or as little as in any other medium.

The equivalence of money with credibility is something that blogging (and, as it happens, art) radically challenges. It's one of the reasons I like blogs; if they have credibility, they have to earn it. But the fears that free "product" means less for arts journalists in an already shrinking market, that bloggers will "undercut" paid journalists and result in less all around, seem to me to emerge from a false economy. I think it just as likely that more would mean more. If technologies like blogs revitalise some aspects of arts commentary, that can only be good for everyone in the industry.

posted by Alison Croggon | 05/18/06, 1:47 AM | permalink

re: Welcome

Considering that Mr. McLennan's WELCOME used the word 'authority' twice, I think that the decline of authority in our society over time has contributed to the decline of the role and status of the critic as arbiter and gatekeeper of the arts in our society.

posted by | 05/18/06, 1:34 AM | permalink

re: Discrimination Theatre

As a matter of fact, the function of criticism is not to help us discover which cultural products we might like, as Mr. McLennan claims. Its function is to help us discover and understand cultural products worthy of our experience, works of art we might not otherwise have had any interest in. Criticism is an exploration, not a trip to the supermarket.

posted by Kenneth LaFave | 05/18/06, 12:19 AM | permalink

re: An artist belongs in the studio

This one has to be a joke. We've been reading the "writing" at Time Out Chicago for about a year now, and for someone who works there to have the gall to dismiss artist/writers is laughable.

Artist/Writers who easily outshine the Time Out staff:

Robert Smithson, Donald Judd, Joseph Kosuth, Marcel Duchamp, Dan Graham, Andre Breton, and on and on and on...Maybe you should look through the 800+ pages of Theories and Documents of Contemporary Art edited by Kristine Stiles and Peter Selz and compare it to the stuff you call criticism at Time Out before making such an absurd claim. If bloggers are learning anything from this forum, it's that our perceptions of sanctimony and smugness regarding some in the MSM are true and that there's no shortage of sloppy thinking and poor research amongst some of its practitioners either..

posted by LeisureArts | 05/17/06, 4:37 PM | permalink

re: Wounded beast

I have never understood the paranoid fear of blogging on the part of many print journalists. Much of what bloggers do is link to and comment on newspaper articles. If anything, we are actually delaying the death of print journalism rather than hastening it. That being said, we arts bloggers have a few advantages over our print colleagues.

We can set the tone, without worrying that an editor will gut our writing because it is too highbrow or over-opinionated. (God forbid someone should refer to a novel by Thomas Mann in a classical music concert review in a newspaper.) The bloggers I enjoy reading the most are specialists in their fields, who are interesting to read precisely *because* they do not have journalism degrees. They have degrees in the areas that they cover.

I dispute the labels some have applied to bloggers here ("amateurs," "non-professional," and even "the unwashed"), all of which may apply in some cases, only because the opposition of dilettante and professional is absurd in this situation. If we apply the term strictly, many American classical music critics -- the area where I spend most of my time at Ionarts -- would be the dilettantes, people without degrees or experience in music, let alone advanced degrees in musicology. This is particularly pronounced when one compares American critics to their European counterparts.

Let me make clear that I personally do not believe that one has to have a doctoral degree in musicology to write intelligently about music (in fact, in many cases, it is an impediment) any more than a degree in journalism is necessary. If I had to choose between the two, however, I would probably rather read the former than the latter.

Yes, many blogs are specialized and do not have the same breadth of coverage as a newspaper's Arts section (or, more likely, Living or Style section). At Ionarts, we now have three regular critics who cover classical music, and one critic each for art, ballet, and film. After blogging for a year or so, I started to think that the best end of this endeavor would be incorporation into a newspaper or other major media outlet. I still think that would be a great idea, but no one has called yet.

posted by Charles T. Downey | 05/17/06, 3:50 PM | permalink

re: Last call

And thank you, Terry, for the extraordinary work you've done evangelizing for this new, uneasy marriage of the new media and the old.

Although I bowed out early after the first couple of days (having unutterably littered the comments section with my own responses), I've been following along, sometimes flattered, sometimes feeling condescended-to, sometimes not sure what to think. But two points occur to me.

First, this "democratization" of cultural discourse ("discourse" a perfectly decent word, even if some of my fellow bloggers find it hard to spit out) is evidently both a local and an international phenomenon. Of course both local bloggers and print arts journalists can serve their own communities most effectively (as local arts sections must serve first and foremost their local readership), but the local angle threatens to become provincial without the additional material that can be provided by these self-appointed blogging critics around the world. Dismissals of the blogosphere based on a few (all right, many) poorly edited, spelled and conceived blogs is similar to dismissing all print journalism based on the quality of the "Pennysaver" newspaper at the local market.

Second, I wish we could reconceive this professional-vs.-amateur distinction; the professional the paid print critic, the amateur the unpaid blogger, however enthusiastic and reliable. I've made the decision to devote my life to the art I've chosen; the theater is my profession, whether the checks come my way or not. The times when I feel the most condescension are when I note the attempt to characterize me and the best of my fellow bloggers as enthusiastic amateurs (even in the best sense of that word). I confess to you, I think we are more than that. We bring passion, yes, but we also bring the craft and seriousness of purpose that the paid print professional is expected to bring to his or her work. Sometimes, I suspect, we may bring even more craft and seriousness of purpose, paid or not.

Some of us consider our efforts an expression of our vocation, not our avocation. So we will continue to be out here, hired for the local paper or not, kicking against the pricks. The number of which, it is my profound hope, will lessen as this shakeout of cultural reportage continues.

posted by George Hunka | 05/17/06, 3:28 PM | permalink

re: An artist belongs in the studio

I've quasi-responded, artist/writer/blogger-style, here.

The short version: Several artists-as-critics already write for so-called mainstream publications, and have contributed much important criticism throughout history (as Franklin demonstrated). An obvious one: Peter Plagens at Newsweek. Artists dictating the tone of criticism is nothing new, and certainly not a unique characteristic of art blogs.

posted by Jason Laning | 05/17/06, 2:09 PM | permalink

re: An artist belongs in the studio

Listen, I read through your ridiculous post and didn't come to the conclusion that all critics should be dismissed. I expect this same courtesy to be extended to artists.

posted by Paddy Johnson | 05/17/06, 1:51 PM | permalink

re: Comes now the shibboleth

An invigorating discussion all around, and I'm enjoying following it. I'm slightly dismayed, however, that some of the discussion has focused on money and on matters of numbers (the difference in numbers between traditional media critics and bloggers). I certainly understand that part of this venture is to debate the current state of cultural journalism, but I wonder just how much the issue is really about the traditional place of critics in the press and their numbers (dwindling or not) and the rising number of "amateur" voices on the internet; I wonder if the issue is equally one of the quality of content. Terry, you raised a very interesting point in an earlier post: "The only way for critics to earn their authority in the age of new media is to be interesting. Nothing less is good enough." You also wrote that the blogosphere is "teaching us that the world is full of non-professional writers who have compelling things to say, but who in the past lacked the means (or desire) to say them loudly and frequently enough to be heard by a mass audience."

To this I say: bravo. Due to the ease of setting up a blog, and to the lack of all sorts of intangible but heavy constraints (space, time, editing, advertising, peer expectations and pressure, and so on), culture bloggers have raised the bar for content. Within the time I've been reading blogs and developing my own, I've learned more about film (to use but one example) than I have from most of the traditional media that I read, and that includes The New York Times, The L.A. Times, and The New Yorker. Blogging has given rise to some brilliant, wise voices who write with forimdable knowledge and passion and who, I believe, are making real contributions to the discussion not just about film but about the arts in general. The fact that these individuals write for free on their own sites, and not for major publications, has no bearing on the quality of their work. Sure, the most accomplished, worthwhile "amateur" critics are a small part of the blogosphere, but they're out there. Which leads me to this: several here on the Critical Edge have remakred that "traditional" critics need to break the rules to survive in the digital age. This is true, but they also have to meet the rising bar for content.

Regarding Anthony DeCurtis' post about writing for money: if Anthony is writing from the vantage point that writers should write only if they can be paid because good writers deserve it and our culture should reward them, I can see where he's coming from. But if he's saying there's no point at all to writing without monetary compensation, then I'm with you Terry -- I'm going to be looking at the butter knife for purposes other than slicing butter. I blog about culture for two main reasons: 1) to engage with culture on a deeper personal, intellectual, and emotional level; 2) to attempt to make a contribution, however humble, however miniscule, to what I believe is a crucial human endeavor: experiencing the arts. If a bone fide media conglomerate came my way and offered me a job as a critic, I honestly don't know if I would necessarily take it. It would depend on the nature and purpose of the publication and whether or not I would be able to raise the issues that I believe are important. I don't get many offers via my blog, but I've had opportunities to take on reviewing tasks from time to time, and I've always turned them down precisely because they weren't the proper avenues for me -- and I mean that in an artistic/critical sense, not on a financial or professional one. I can say on my blog things I could not necessarily say elsewhere.

In the field in which I do publish -- academic history -- I never get paid for what I write (with one exception in seven years). Sure, publishing is necessary for any academic who seeks professional advancement, but I do it regardless; I do it because I believe that I have something to say and that I can contribute to the ongoing discussion about the past. If I didn't feel this way, there would be no reason for me to do it. I approach culture blogging in a similar way. You know, when William Buckley, Jr. was asked, after running for office, what he would have done if he had won, he said, "I'd demand a recount." He was running to raise issues, not for gain. And though I don't believe that Mr. Buckley is the reason to get out of bed in the morning, he was on to something. Anthony tells us bloggers that blogging is "likely to be its own reward for a long time." He's right, and that's exactly why I do it.

posted by Michael S. | 05/17/06, 1:38 PM | permalink

re: Cocoa Pebbles

To be sure, paring your info/opinion sources down to a single informant, as did the head mafioso in "Goodfellas" (that little guy who came to his apartment once a day with the reliable--under pain of getting whacked--goods), is a) impractical and b) inadvisable. But there is something to be said for filtering arts journalism through, at least, an editor. Not for censorial purposes, but to squeeze out the water, minimize the bullshit, temper the invective, reign in the self-indulgence, and, as an editor friend of mine said was the best editing advice ever given to him, "put everything about one thing in once place." Most blogs, alas, only bolster the case for editing. Then there's the matter of there still being only 24 hours in a day and of (my, at least) being able to read only so much prose during them. Not that one should give credence only to a bylined piece in a major daily, but rather that reading dozens of blogs in the hope of discovering some trenchant criticism is like going 'round to artists' studios in Brooklyn, street by street, hoping to find some good art. Possible, but the odds are even longer than spending a whole Saturday at the galleries in Chelsea. I read Tyler Green's MAN and a couple of others, but mostly I confine myself to selective hard copy, Mark Kostabi's advice column at artnet.com, and very proscribed probings on a search engine. Otherwise, it's too much of a crapshoot.

posted by Peter Plagens | 05/17/06, 1:21 PM | permalink

re: And The Survey Says... The Pay Sucks!

I am graduating in a few weeks from Syracuse University with a masters degree in arts journalism. My program is the only program in the country designed with the arts writer in mind.

However exciting the prospect of fulfilling my dream as a critic, the closer I get to graduation the more I regret my decision to enter this field. Only one out of 16 of us has received a job offer; the rest of us are reevaluating our career choices, albeit now thousands of dollars in debt. I still plan to pursue my career, but I've realized that waitressing is probably my only option until I can scrape together the measly wages of freelance jobs.

It's hard to enough for a person right out of college to pitch cold, but to pitch arts pieces along with thousands of other writers who critique subjects that seem to matter less and less to the print media is just downright discouraging.

I'm not sure if my career will ever pan out, but what I do know is that I owe the government money for my training regardless.

How can a girl like me who is green to this business get by when more experienced writers are more or less standing in the bread line?

posted by cantspeakitgood | 05/17/06, 11:28 AM | permalink

re: Nonprofit center

Mr. Teachout, I agree wholeheartedly. While I'm left alone from an editorial standpoint, I only get so much space for jazz but a blog allows me the opportunity to write when I want about what I want. Blogs are the manifest destiny of the moment.

posted by Tim DuRoche | 05/17/06, 10:04 AM | permalink

re: Nonprofit center

This confirms a long-held suspicion. Print outlets ask the writer to focus on the topic, the blog allows the writer to focus on himself. It seals the transition of electronic forums from discussion to advertising. Unfortunate, but, them's the breaks.

Ravi Narasimhan

posted by Ravi Narasimhan | 05/17/06, 9:53 AM | permalink

re: And The Survey Says... The Pay Sucks!

There are two threads here worth noting. The artist/writer piece is worth a deeper, less dismissive (Ms. Lopez) look. I've been an arts writer (jazz mainly, performance occasionally)and a practicing artist for years--and find that the integrity I bring to a critical, historical grasp of the genre is directly informed by my immersion as an artist. This has nothing to do with effluvial "artist statements" or lack of specious objectivity--it's a real concern that the music or art that is "as serious as your life" is not misrepresented and the stories are sincerely and honestly told to a reading public that places little value on sincerity or jazz usually. Most of us are cheerleading for marginalized forms or aesthetics that are never going to be on the same playing field as big budget production musicals, Impressionist retrospectives, or Bruce Springsteen--so the words and the actions are chosen more carefully. Many of us who make and write about making emerge as writers first, critics second.

On to the other point: blogs. They're immediate, reflexive, don't pay a dime, won't hurt you and allow many of us the opportunity to reach an audience in a different voice, with an arsenal of perspectives and latitude that isn't burdened by the limitations of misanthropic editors or shrinking word-counts.Moreover the blog has allowed me to flex and produce writing that shows a deeper connectivity between the arts--talking about "intermedia" and the expanded arts as something other than a gimmick involving a dance company with a video screen--and go beyond the jazz ghetto and look at things like
performance festivals or subjects that
might ordinarily not be accorded print space.

posted by Tim DuRoche | 05/17/06, 9:49 AM | permalink

re: An artist belongs in the studio

The artist/writer role has always existed, bravo—go hang out at the College Art Association.

Them's fightin' words, Ma'am.

As a practitioner-critic, as the redoubtable Terry Teachout so elegantly put it, I'm not looking at much contemporary art journalism for inspiration. I look more at Delacroix's journals, the old Roman Stoics, Jean Giono, Henry Miller - people who can write the pants off of nearly anyone. If I found more inspiration in contemporary art journalism, I would look for it there. I don't think you, as a profession, have the privilege, or even time, to get picky about where to obtain fresh blood. Find artists, journalists, trained guinea pigs, whoever's producing that savory content the genre needs and get them some column-inches somewhere.

posted by Franklin Einspruch | 05/17/06, 9:26 AM | permalink

re: Sports and the Arts

I have been fascinated by the quick introduction of the towel-snapping sports analogy into this conversation about arts journalism, and by its tenacious endurance. Sports and art, like anything people choose to do, are gendered--framed by a complex set of masculine and feminine social codes. Sports sections have a long lineage in American journalism, but the culture sections of newspapers are more recent. And it's no accident that they emerged in the wake of '60s feminism, born from what used to be called "the women's pages."

Not long ago I listened as a former NEA chairman explained the marginalized status of the arts in the political economy of the United States: "As long as the arts enter the White House through the East Wing, rather than the West Wing, they will have no serious standing in Washington." The arts have always been the purview of the First Lady, not the man one might likewise have always called The Decider.

In the call to make arts coverage more like sports coverage there is more than a whiff of testosterone. Think of it as a critical steroid. The handwringing is a rather obvious--and odious--plea to butch it up.

posted by Christopher Knight | 05/17/06, 7:19 AM | permalink

re: Nonprofit center

I'd like to associate myself with the remarks of the gentleman from the Upper West Side.

posted by Tyler Green | 05/17/06, 6:58 AM | permalink

re: Extraordinary machines

Somewhat like Caryn, I think there already is a wide spectrum between--for lack of better words--"commentary" and "evaluation." It's one thing to read a critic that simply uses global adjectives of praise or condemnation: "Wow!" That's simply fodder for ad layouts. But quite another to read a smart consideration of a great performance or composition, which clearly signals that it's something to be seen, but expends most of its effort to explain *why* it's worthwhile. What makes it great? How does a performance serve a play or a piece of music? I always try to think of my reviews as the beginning of a conversation, not the end of one. Pandora and the like can help one find great music (or whatever) but critics and writers should the ones who keep the conversation going.

posted by Paul Kosidowski | 05/17/06, 6:47 AM | permalink

re: Microsoft Sidewalk anyone?

Jeanne wrote: "Because with all these choices and voices, we need an organizing intelligence to make sense of it all -- and there is a massive audience of art lovers and consumers out there craving knowledge, craving critics."

I disagree (a little bit). The blogosphere acts like a giant brain, organizing itself into a hierarchy of quality. The good stuff gets linked to and lots of people read it. The more a site is linked to, the more people begin to read it daily on their own. It's survival-of-the-fittest criticism/writing-style.

posted by Tyler Green | 05/17/06, 6:37 AM | permalink

re: Microsoft Sidewalk anyone?

Don't you think that one of the things that killed Sidewalk and Citysearch is that they were ahead of their time? They sprouted before the ad dollars (and the eyeballs) were there. I think both models are perfectly suited to today's climate and now alt-weeklies are picking up the slack and creating similar sites now that they can get revenue. I don't think the reason those sites failed is because they didn't connect. I know that Citysearch hired locally when it started. And I think AOL now has the same model.

posted by caryn | 05/17/06, 6:14 AM | permalink

re: And The Survey Says... The Pay Sucks!

Yeah, let's discuss this. The next time you see a blogger talking about print journalism's speedy vector into the ground, ask yourself whether he's suffering from technology-induced alt-media triumphalism, or whether he simply looked at his last paycheck from a freelance arts writing job and realized that he was watching the newspaper die in real time. Print has already voted with its wallet on how much esteem it will grant to art and coverage thereof, a point brought home to me with great force several years ago when Jerry Saltz - Jerry Saltz! - showed me a folded-up, warn piece of paper, pulled from his pocket, that had hundreds of little notes scribbled on it: his teaching schedule, which he needed to to make things work financially in New York.

posted by Franklin Einspruch | 05/17/06, 6:10 AM | permalink

re: And The Survey Says... The Pay Sucks!

Thank you for raising this issue. I am a freelance arts writer, logging in here from my day job. There have been a lot of exciting approaches to reporting discussed on this blog conversation, all of which I am confident I will never get to do. The local paper is probably not going to hire me (it's shedding writers) and what's been discussed simply takes too much time for someone working 40 hours a week on other projects. All I can really do are reviews, and sometimes (in all honesty) it's a struggle to do those properly.

I would also like to note that many freelancers would enjoy providing more context, in-depth analysis, and style in their reviews, but they are limited to a great extent by the space that newspapers allot to them. Certainly I have a prose style (of sorts), but because there is so much business to transact in the scarce column inches available to me, I am rarely able to indulge in any fillips or prose doodles, much less to step back and discuss the cultural moment in which a certain work is being premiered (for example).

It would be great if I could actually make a living as an arts freelancer, or if I had a sugar momma who could subsidize my career as an arts freelancer. (It would be even greater if a newspaper was willing to hire me and teach me how to report things, to supplement what I may immodestly call my critical acumen, but that ain't a-gonna happen, and anyway reporting's not really something I think I would want to do every day.) I'm doing the best I can in the time made available to me by economic forces and the space made available to me by editorial decisions.

And I have a blog. (But not an arts blog, so it doesn't really count for these purposes.)

posted by Lindemann | 05/17/06, 5:42 AM | permalink

re: Cocoa Pebbles

"Like with breakfast cereal, you can be paralyzed by too many choices and comforted when you find one you enjoy every day"

Sure we all like a little comfort and security, but somedays I like to add bananas or blueberries, in season of course. In this discussion we can't forget the generational effect. I grew up with newspapers, it's delivered to my driveway daily; not always in the driveway and this morning the dog peed on it.
Many of my fellow bloggers are slightly older than my daughter, she's 17. Although bloggers may devour all types of media, very few of that generation are reading the daily paper(s).
On line versions are attracting more readers and importantly, advertisers. Blogs, to my 17 yr olds group have that comfort zone; the familiar ritual you get with your cereal. They feel very comfortable with a range of opinions and enjoy the ability to interact in a spontaneous way; look how well this discussion went.
Lets do the numbers. Once this discussion got under way many blogs, mine included (ionarts.org) posted about it, sending their readers to it. I bet this turned in a more diverse and possibly larger audience than any daily could ever imagine. Now that's comforting.

posted by Mark Barry | 05/17/06, 4:57 AM | permalink

re: And The Survey Says... The Pay Sucks!

I am saddened by the way the print media is cutting cultural reporting. In Philly it is hard to find reviews of most of the exhibits. When making a profit is more important than enlightening the society we all loose, artists, producers and critics. The internet with blogs has returned some of what we all need, light on our passion. Thank you AJ and others who work for little return.

posted by Charles Hankin | 05/17/06, 4:03 AM | permalink

re: Woa there . . .

There's a difference between the kind of back-scratching you're describing here and the possibility of criticism that engages with a work and even with practitioners. The former assumes that criticism is solely a branch of promotion. The latter suggests another, tougher kind of possibility.

I think an arts writer owes a duty to her reader, for sure. But equally, she owes a duty to the art (not the artists) she comments upon, and this is surely a corrective to sentiment. "Supportive" criticism - the touch of special pleading, &c, or even the consciously skewed review - isn't worth the pixels it's written in. It may feed an artist's ego (though never mine - I loathe falsely earned praise as much as unfair condemnation) but it cheapens the artform as much as any carelessly ignorant commentary.

All of which may be no more than truisms. But when I think of the critics I've most loved reading, those who have opened possibiliities - Randall Jarrell or Octavio Paz on poetry, say, or John Berger on visual art, or Susan Sontag on most things, or event hings like Rilke writing on Cezanne - what is most exciting about their writing is that it is, in a crucial sense, very personal. In a way, their opinions are neither here nor there (opinion is the least of it); what moves and excites me is that feeling of being privy, in the mediated way that writing permits, to such interesting processes of perception and thought. I don't think it is the proliferation of individual voices and perceptions that is at issue - I welcome the way this can challenge the comfortable assumptions of received opinion (in whatever medium). What is at issue is really the quality of the thought that emerges from this personal, invested place.

posted by Alison Croggon | 05/17/06, 3:38 AM | permalink

re: Writing Well For Pay?

I'd merely like to add that getting paid for one's work is hardly a guarantee of quality - whatever that may be - in writing as every other area of endeavour.

posted by Lee | 05/16/06, 11:47 PM | permalink

re: Extraordinary machines

Isn't is possible to exist in both realms? Look at a site such as Pitchfork: it features some of the smartest, most insightful pop music criticism out there. It also uses a rating system. AND it embeds links where you can buy the music that's being reviewed; it's clearly advertising yet there's no thick black line separating it. Everyone seems to understand what it is yet it doesn't interfere with the credibility of the reviews. Pitchfork seems to be a good example of balancing both ends of the spectrum. I don't think, however, that preference engines will ever choke out real critics. If nothing else, it's because people in this country like to feel as though they are individuals, even if it's an illusion.

posted by caryn | 05/16/06, 9:22 PM | permalink

re: Discrimination Theatre

Alison wrote:
"But I do think blogs are doing something different. They are much more user-friendly to an outsider reader: all the other technologies require some kind of "insider" status (you need to join the usenet group or listserv, for example). Like those other technologies, blogs create communities around and between them: but they also create readerships, which the other technologies can only do in limited ways...."

I respectfully disagree. Usenet and listservs mostly require a user to know that they are there - true for blogs as well. Google's archiving of the Usenet has made it easy to search and to contribute. There are also the traditional paths to connectivity through news providers. I don't think it is any more difficult to contribute to these existing forums than it is to comment to this site. My experience has been that blogs are not immune from in-group/out-group problems. It's an online community like any other. The blog owner is in charge. By contrast, the moderation policies of Usenet and listservs have evolved differently.

I visit several Usenet sites and belong to a few listservs just because of the readership issue you mentioned. There are people contributing who write well and in whose opinions I love to read.
I primarily visit blogs for links to full articles. I've yet to find one that appeals to me solely on its own merits. (My arts interests, for what they're worth, are in classical music and theatre).

Blogs are unruly, disorderly and unpredictable, sure, and there's no arguing that there's a ton of crap out there. But simply to observe that fact is, I think, to miss what else is going on.

My point was more than the signal-to-noise ratio in blogs. It was about the claims being made, at least in my reading of them, that blogs were something fundamentally new and different. I think that the blog providers have done a very good job of providing clean, attractive interfaces - many or most of which happen to be free. This is a huge departure from previous free services such as Geocities which also provided venues for unfettered expression. The advent of RSS and its tight integration with just about every piece of blog software is the real story. People can now have an aggregator working quietly in the background serving up items of interest. But RSS is a protocol and not restricted to blogs alone.

I think (hope?) the future of journalism, arts or otherwise, will still depend on the quality of the thinking and of the exposition. The method of delivery will change as blogs become routine and the next great gizmo shows up. It is like the old economy versus the new economy: The outfits that stuck to sound principles survived.

As an aside, I would personally like to see more art critics whose knowledge of the world transcends their specialty, transcends art, and brings in science, engineering, and technology in substantial and appropriate ways. That's been tough to find no matter the medium.

Ravi Narasimhan

posted by Ravi Narasimhan | 05/16/06, 8:50 PM | permalink

re: Andras and smoke

Someone on another site mentioned that if indeed female bloggers are so important, why are there not more links to them? Or do they just not writing in the same way and so, not defined in the ususal means? Guess they are cool to mention for the right PC cred but not link.

posted by eva | 05/16/06, 8:23 PM | permalink

re: Echoing Peck

So LeisureArts responds to my original post with sarcasm, a way of dismissing an argument a priori, while demonstrating he knows little about Dallas arts or our coverage of it. I respond in kind, and am called unfair by Mr. Green and receive a sweet, sensible lecture about the Purposes of Sarcasm on the Internet, as if I hadn't encountered it before. OK. Thanks.

As for my take on the role of local vs. national vs. international, Mr. Green, I thought my reply made it plain: We cover national and international when we can, as it matters -- obviously, electronic popular culture crosses almost all boundaries. Who doesn't cover mass arts like film, TV, music, books, etc.?

But the local remains our bread-and-butter. And yes, Ms. Croggon, your physical location in Melbourne and your digital blog permit you a greater leeway than we have. You're a blogger and one of the facts about bloggers is they can cherry-pick. As I noted, we're a local city paper, and any big city newspaper journalist who tells you the local isn't his medium's bread-and-butter is either fooling himself, fooling you or doesn't understand the economics of his medium.

Unfortunately, this thread must come to an end. I've been responding while both of my hands have been on another keyboard, doing my job, and on yet another keyboard, filling in for my editor, and doing both our jobs several days in advance so I can squeeze some free time to go to Philly. I'm headed for the airport now, which means I won't be available to OK responses to appear here. Yes, I'm using this opportunity to free myself from my laptop.

Au revoir.

posted by Jerome Weeks | 05/16/06, 8:10 PM | permalink

re: Discrimination Theatre

I've been participating in various internet technologies - listservs etc - for more than 10 years, mainly in the field of contemporary poetry, which went wholesale to the internet because it is utterly marginalised in mainstream publications. And yes, they have made a very big difference which I think has yet to be fully assessed.

But I do think blogs are doing something different. They are much more user-friendly to an outsider reader: all the other technologies require some kind of "insider" status (you need to join the usenet group or listserv, for example). Like those other technologies, blogs create communities around and between them: but they also create readerships, which the other technologies can only do in limited ways. I'm fascinated to watch their evolution. Blogs are unruly, disorderly and unpredictable, sure, and there's no arguing that there's a ton of crap out there. But simply to observe that fact is, I think, to miss what else is going on.

posted by Alison Croggon | 05/16/06, 6:42 PM | permalink

re: Echoing Peck

Last I looked, I was a woman. I am a blogger. And I am (if my comments are posted) commenting here. But I do feel somewhat marginal.

As for local vs international. I write from Melbourne (yes, near Antarctica) but my blog is read by people all over the place, though most readers are Australian. (Americans are about a third of my readership.) My blog allows me to discuss local work in an international context and in real dialogue with practitioners and critics elsewhere. This reflects the reality of the culture I am discussing. Many contemporary theatre practitioners here travel and work overseas, especially in Europe: I can think of two Australian directors, for instance, who work in German theatres and have brought that work back here in the past couple of years, and quite a few young playwrights who base themselves in London. One thing the blog permits me to resist is an artificial parochialism that is often assumed by the mainstream press.

posted by Alison Croggon | 05/16/06, 6:20 PM | permalink

re: Other voices

I don't know how closely related Australian media are to the US press (significant differences certainly in concentration of ownership etc, though you could think of us as a kind of Petri dish - trends can happen quickly here). I come from a sports fanatic country. In Australia, the wittiest, most informed and sometimes the most lyrical journalism happens on the sports pages. Moreover, nobody is ashamed of being an expert discussing abstruse or even arcane aspects of a sport, because they assume anyone interested in the sport will understand these complexities as well. This simply is not the case for arts journalism, where expertise is considered, if anything, grounds for suspicion, a bit of a wank, and critics hold themselves at arm's length from practitioners because of fear of "influence". Complex ideas tend not to get space. Most critics - I have sat on endless panels "criticising the critics" - consider themselves part of a dialogue, but they do so for the most part in an extremely limited way, exercising their judgement from on high as a fiat. Very few - I can think of one, a dance critic - involve themselves actively in a dialogic way with arts practitioners.

There are exceptions, of course - the arts coverage in The Australian, for example, where ideas are explicitly encouraged, and in general expertise in the visual arts, such as a knowledge of art history, is considered permissible. Performing arts, and especially theatre, are treated as entertainment, and there is little decent, informed coverage of the artform in the mainstream daily press. Because the coverage is so dull - a problem reinforced in many cities that have only one daily newspaper aside from the national paper - it reinforces the prejudice that the artforms are dull, merely worthy, at best a minority or elite interest, although surveys have shown that Australians are among the most enthusiastic arts consumers in the world. This is the context where I feel it's worthwhile doing my blog.

The people who write about sport are all fans; a job on the sports desk is absolutely coveted. It is not so true of arts journalism, which is where they tend to assign people not considered good enough for hard news. Although those with an arts bent will get assigned there too, this can be just as bad - a fuzzy liking for the arts doesn't necessarily translate into sharp, informed or critical reportage.

Personally, I think the first duty of arts coverage anywhere is not to be dull. If mainstream coverage is inadequate or arrogant, those who want something more will look elsewhere. The internet is beginning to provide that elsewhere. The question - here in Australia at least - is whether traditional media will pick up the challenge that it represents. I don't think it's a question of either/or - the situation is much more interesting and complex than such a simple binary.

posted by Alison Croggon | 05/16/06, 6:05 PM | permalink

re: Considering the hybrid

I endorse Tyler and Chris's calls for a broader definition of criticism, whether on blogs or in mainstream publications.
I certainly think there's a place for traditional informed criticism of performances. But I also agree with John Cage that more arts journalists should view at least one of their roles as that of the Introducer, whose job it is to give readers the contextual info that will help them understand and appreciate new and unfamiliar works.

That role may be more important than ever these days. With such a vast variety of arts available to our readers now, we can't assume that they share the same base of background knowledge that NY readers had about, say, jazz or classical music in the 1950s, when critics could afford to focus on the nuances of performances. That shift has impelled me to do more introducing, more contextualizing, more storytelling.

Fortunately, new media afford us more room for us to use different approaches when it's appropriate to the subject. For example, I treasure anything Terry Teachout writes, and I love the fact that his blog allows him to do a different kind of writing than his Wall Street Journal and other pieces.

Not that traditional publications don't give us that latitude. In my own occasional freelance arts writing for the WSJ and various magazines over the past decade, I've tried to make those pieces more about reporting and context than pure criticism or even the previews I write in my music column for the local alt weekly.

I prefer to write those explanatory and narrative pieces, perhaps because I come from a literary nonfiction background and consider myself more of a storyteller about the arts than a critic per se, at least in the rather cramped definition applied to that term these days. For awhile, Andante provided such a forum online, and I wish there were more online venues that, unlike blogs, actually paid us to go beyond the typical critic's role.

posted by brett | 05/16/06, 5:45 PM | permalink

re: Different islands

Joe and I discussed this issue at the NEA institute for classical music and opera journalists in New York last fall. I generally agree with his call for a more engaged criticism, with artists themselves given a great role in print and blog media. However, as a former editor and journalism professor who comes from the journalism side of the arts writing world, I have to add a couple of cautions.

First, one truth that most editors (and many of my magazine editing students) eventually learn the hard way is: if you have a choice between a good writer who has to learn about a subject, and an expert who has to learn how to write, pick the real writer every time. That goes for artists, too. Not that there aren't many honorable exceptions to that rule (Thomson, my faculty colleague and former Guitar Player editor Tom Wheeler, the filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich, G.B. Shaw, and many others who came to arts writing from the arts rather than from journalism), but editors should allow plenty of time and effort to work with artists who want to write for publication. Obviously this is less true with book reviewers who are also writers.

Second, any potential conflict of interest should be disclosed in the writer's line of any article. That allows readers to make up their own minds about the writer's credibility. I'm a big fan of the music of Lou Harrison and John Cage, but those two friends and creative partners shouldn't have been reviewing each other's concerts in Virgil Thomson's NY Herald Tribune (as they and many other composers did in the 1940s) without telling the readers about their relationship.

My amateur experience in music and theatre has certainly helped my writing about those subjects, and I do think there's room for more line-crossing of the sort Joe advocates -- as long we tell the readers where we're coming from.

There's a practical side to observing such principles, too. As several earlier posters have noted, with so many voices now echoing around the net, readers need some way to discern writers' credibility. Experience in the art form you're writing about is one such credential. Abiding by journalistic ethical and other principles and practices is another, and helps distinguish journalism from opinioneering. Not that there's anything wrong with the latter, but presumably, the credibility that comes with adhering to the rules such as fairness, full disclosure, balance and so on adds value to a writer's published judgment. That's why I think that, as valuable as blogs and other democratizing/ centrifugal forces are, there'll always be a place for institutions that at least try to enforce those rules.

posted by brett | 05/16/06, 4:43 PM | permalink

re: Echoing Peck

I have to point out that I listed the three I knew of off hand. My understanding is that there is a lot of artist activity in the blogging world in Texas, and I hear all the time that artists are very active in these communities. Dallas is admittedly outside of my area of expertise, but I do not doubt that there are more articulate artist-critics than you think. It's just a matter of looking for them.

Also, I have to say your response to Leisurearts, is full of assumptions about artists and bloggers that are simply not true. The idea that we bloggers are not interested in listings, reviews etc is false. I maintain the listings for a local zine in brooklyn, many of which are not hip, but are listed because I think they are interesting and/or important. Also, freewilliamsburg (http://www.freewilliamsburg.com/)
is a local brooklyn blog that reports on local news and does from time to time report on local legal issues. I understand your frustration that it is difficult to find artists who are willing to cover what your paper needs in what is not a major center like New York, but the point is they exist, you just have to take the time to seek these people out. The reason the net is so effective is because networking tools such as myspace and friendster (for all their hipness), craigslist, yahoo, all provide an excellent means of doing so. I would issue you the following challenge: Type the names of the artists I provided above into myspace, and see how many more artist-writers *in your area* you found based on what I gave you alone. I would be floored if you came up with nothing you found interesting.

One final point on the pointless sarcasm that bloggers are known for: Bloggers may be known for sarcasm, but to call it pointless is very dangerous, because it dismisses very valuable work that is being done in the field. Many critics are not fans of Gawker style writing, but I happen to think this kind of work is really important. The influence of entertainment is such that many people don't pay attention unless you can say something, witty, caustic and smart, and for better or worse I base my practice on this premise.

In anycase, enough using that turn of phrase as a platform for my own ideas. Leisurearts comments are not at all pointless, and it seems to me that the idea of international art discourse as it intersects with local activity, is something you would probably have interest in.

posted by Paddy Johnson | 05/16/06, 4:05 PM | permalink

re: Break Rules

So, should the "piece" itself -its grammar, structure, wording- be an ambassador of the topic it's covering? Should it possess the same nature, essence? I wonder what would be best...to stick with "safe" journalism so that the general/average masses understand? Or should we deposit more faith in our readers and hope whatever we throw out there they'll get?
Is there such thing as avant-garde journalism?

posted by Gretel | 05/16/06, 2:09 PM | permalink

re: Wounded beast

This comparison (Unnamed Brioda Reviewer v. Holland) gets at the heart of what art criticism is for. Thank you!

I am wondering, though, if the reviewer's goal is to explain work to a less-educated public. This creates a paternalistic relationship between reader and reviewer that can create exactly the overly jargonated blah-dee-blah you describe above.

What is a reviewer's goal? I would argue that Holland's down-to-earth writing is a function of his desire to share his experience and find meaning in what he experiences. Good criticism is a conversation about a work of art's meaning and relevance to the larger culture.

posted by Deborah Fisher | 05/16/06, 1:59 PM | permalink

re: Echoing Peck

That's not fair. I think the commenter had plenty of smart thing sto say. His (?) responses were much more thoughtful than they were "pointless." They also got at a key issue: local vs. national.

posted by Tyler Green | 05/16/06, 1:59 PM | permalink

re: Echoing Peck

Ah well. This is descending into that fine exchange of pointless sarcasm for which bloggers are justly celebrated. But my points still stand and very little you've written addresses them -- unlike ArtFagCity who kindly suggested some area arts blogs.

There aren't that many articulate artist-writer-intellectuals in the area who could do what we'd need -- even ArtFagCity cited all of three blogs, and one them is in Houston. As I noted, we have had local authors write.

The fact is the Dallas Morning News covers arts in New York, LA, DC, London and even Paris. Why the locals and not someone in New York, you demand? Local artists know about the local scene, local problems, local legal issues, local clubs in trouble. Anyone can access what you have to say on the web. But if they want to know about what's happening here then at some point, they will have to come to us. Regardless of what you may think about my ideas or writing, the local daily paper, if it's doing its job right, is doing a lot of the nuts-and-bolts, unglamorous things bloggers rarely bother with: listings, advances, charts, maps, reviews not just of the in, hip stuff but a wide range, the great mass of stuff.

That's the franchise, that's what we do. You want to sneer at it, go ahead. But that's why city papers exist.

posted by Jerome Weeks | 05/16/06, 1:43 PM | permalink

re: Echoing Peck

We knew you were from Dallas, but your question didn't specify that you meant only Dallas artists. You might think we'd assume that based on your "local" perspective, but we happen to believe that people in Dallas can actually learn something from the activities of artists and critics living elsewhere. You certainly know your readers better than us, so if you say that they can't, so be it. If true, it is a sad, sad commentary on your community. And you're right, we're not "local arts" journalists if that means we cannot look to a broad, international sampling of art discourse as it intersects with local activity. Maybe we should only write about people in our apartment building to be truly "local."

posted by LeisureArts | 05/16/06, 1:25 PM | permalink

re: Echoing Peck

Let me see if I have this straight: You accuse me of not tracking down all the names in your post, for which you didn't supply links. Yet you also ask how could anyone know I was talking about just the Dallas-Fort Worth area -- betraying the fact that you did not bother to read my bio, which is supplied on this very blog, no need to go elsewhere. Nor, if you had read my earlier postings, the fact that I have continually used the word "local."

Well, thanks for the opportunity to move from sports analogies to pots and kettles.

As for my provincialism, if you think we would ask a Chicago actor to write about his rehearsal process or an Oakland painter to write about the nature of the art biz today and not rightfully get an outright rebellion from area artists and equally rightful irritation from many readers who obviously cannot see the Chicago actor's performance nor the LA painter's gallery showing, then it's plain you are not a local arts journalist. That's our job.

Finally, for the suggested local blogs from ArtFagCity, much thanks. Actually, I've stumbled across glasstire, not the others. But then, I'm the book critic. My interest in the visual arts scene is friendly, not professional. We have had local author/bloggers write for us.

posted by Jerome Weeks | 05/16/06, 1:00 PM | permalink

re: Echoing Peck

I cover New York art news, so it stands to reason that the majority of my links are going to be New York based. There are plenty of excellent artist critics working in your area, so I can't agree with you on this. Here are a few:

GlassTire is an excellent online publication, and if you don't know about it I highly recommend it. Some artist contributors in your area are:

Catherine Deitchman
Maria Sheets
Johnny Robertson
Noah Simblist


Ryan Fitzer is located in Dallas and maintains an excellent artist blog.


Artist Laura Lark in houston maintains a blog also worth your attention.


posted by Paddy Johnson | 05/16/06, 12:46 PM | permalink

re: Echoing Peck

For someone dercying the lack of cogent writing, you really should be little more precise when you write. You never specified in your question that you were seeking Dallas artists only. It's not even implicit by context. For the record, the people we mentioned are from Chicago, Oakland, and Toronto among other places. And talk about "boosterism," or to be more precise - provincialism, why should your readers be limited to only reading about Dallas based artists?

By the way, try figuring out who wrote what before responding...

posted by LeisureArts | 05/16/06, 12:35 PM | permalink

re: Other voices

Newspapers should not be 'textbooks' where the under-educated masses go to receive an introduction to art. Remedial arts education does not equal news.

Furthermore, newspapers should not be cheerleaders for the arts, arts organizations or for artists. (Given that we seem to be stuck in a morass of sports analogies, I'll point out that most major newspaper sports sections are really, really good at not being boosterish.)

There is nothing about seeing an opera or a Matisse that is 'better' for someone than, say, sanding a table or climbing a mountain. Proselytizing and educating should be left to the education departments of arts organizations, schools, etc.

Art critics and arts journalists ought evaluate and examine, critique and contextualize, investigate and judge.

posted by Tyler Green | 05/16/06, 12:33 PM | permalink

re: Echoing Peck

No, I'm not kidding. As with the ArtFagCity posting, you don't cite a single artist from the Dallas-Fort Worth area. I realize that this will only confirm your view of the benighted cultural atmosphere here, but a New York-centric view is not particularly applicable to the folks out here on the prairie.

posted by Jerome Weeks | 05/16/06, 12:20 PM | permalink

re: Missing in action

I also believe in the value of practitioner criticism, though it should be taken with a grain or two (or three) of salt, since it often says as much or more about the practitioner in question as it does the object of his criticism.

Well, Playgoer makes a good point about "practitioner" literary critics... we could hardly accept a book review that WASN'T written by another professional writer. I find the best critics to be fellow artists who aren't distracted by the goings on around art, but actually focus on the WORK, and to what degree it WORKS... non-practicing art critics are usually confused about the point of art, and ask stupid question like, is Goya's art still RELEVANT? Jesus Christ, the only relevance is QUALITY!!!

posted by Marc Country | 05/16/06, 12:17 PM | permalink

re: Echoing Peck

Thanks for your comment. But I notice in your posting that the artblogs you list are all primarily based in New York City. Meanwhile, your own blog contains an extensive list of links -- for New York City artists, art groups and other Manhattan art blogs.

Nothing seems to be from the Dallas-Fort Worth area, so little of it is of use to me. In short, my points about the difficulty in finding articulate intellectual artists still stand. I love Manhattan, but in my experience, New York-centric thinking is not a particularly useful model for much of the rest of the country.

posted by Jerome Weeks | 05/16/06, 12:14 PM | permalink

re: Echoing Peck

In your direct experience,just how common is the artist-writer-intellectual-journalist?

Are you kidding? Or is the "journalist" part the key term? Uh...pretty common:

Michelle Grabner

Joseph Beuys

Gavin Wade

Temporary Services

Instant Coffee

Marisa Olson

Ted Purves

Jeffrey Vallance

The list goes on and on...

posted by LeisureArts | 05/16/06, 11:56 AM | permalink

re: Insert head (A) in sand (B)

no more than ten percent of artblogs (if that) are “worthwhile stuff.”
That goes for traditional media as well...

Yes, as does the part about "... conversations among people you’d frankly prefer not to meet, others are cries for help and their writers are clearly in need of therapy..." etc.

posted by Marc Country | 05/16/06, 11:55 AM | permalink

re: Other voices

These ideas from San Deigo seem great to me, but they do show that there IS a difference between writing for print and the internet. Newspapers are still think of themselves as a "broadcast" medium. They don't aim for reaching the experts in the field, but somewhat educated people who might become interested in a particular topic. Often, blogs are of a personal nature, or narrowly focused. That lends itself to a completely different kind of discussion. The important question for critics, is not just "Do I know what I writing about?" but "Do I know who I am writing FOR?"

Also, expanding the logic used in some posts, it would seem that some people here have predicted the end of paid arts journalism, as newspapers cut space, and the hordes bloggers take over. Is that what you really mean?

posted by Jonathan Gresl | 05/16/06, 11:55 AM | permalink

re: The Issue Isn't Blogs

From Anthony:
Agree pretty much on all. Personally, I guess I always wanted to do both. I wanted to reach a big audience in big outlets -- it seemed exciting and fun, and I have no less of an ego (maybe more, who knows?) than anybody else. But I also value the opportunity to address more specific audiences whose tastes I either share or want to discuss. It would be too condescending about work that means a great deal to me to simply say that the mass stuff underwrites my ability to do the niche stuff (academic journals, contributions to books that have tiny advances, lower-budget periodicals, etc.), but it's kind of worked out that way.
I believe that the great gift of the Internet has been to provide communities for people whose interests in whatever areas of their lives are not addressed by the mainstream. That's unassailably a virtue. But it comes with certain problems -- fragmentation, white noise, absence of agreed-upon values. In those regards, of course, cyberculture doesn't so much challenge mainstream culture as reflect it (the white noise of advertising, demographic fragments determined/created by marketers, identity politics, etc.).
But that's the way culture works all the time -- its currents never just flow one way -- and those secondary consequences don't diminish the primary contributions the Internet has made -- in this case, to our national discussion about the arts. The trick, as always, is to try to get as much of the good as possible while diminishing the bad. I find, however, that most discussions of these issues don't address those complexities. (This one seems pretty good, though.) People are pushed to one side or another -- one more unconscious reflection of the larger culture, I think.
Sorry to go on so long, but your comments caused me to sharpen some of my ideas -- or, to be more honest, my feelings -- about all this.

posted by Anthony DeCurtis | 05/16/06, 11:54 AM | permalink

re: The Issue Isn't Blogs

But that also seems to be based on the mode of criticism where large-scale circulation media like RS annoint or comment on mass audience trends. Obviously, you're vested in that, but there are plenty of people who reject that approach, whether they're obsessives or niches, or so-called trendspotters or whatever; they're groups whose interests and POV's are not shared by (the editors of) mass publications/media. So while mass-oriented critics are welcome to consider their opinions and tastes superior to do so BECAUSE it's mass seems silly to me, too.

posted by Greg | 05/16/06, 11:52 AM | permalink

re: Echoing Peck

Let us not return back to the dreaded sports analogies since it is by no means an equivelent. Artists must be able to articulate their objectives - it is critical to the development of our work. There is a long history of artists who are very active as writers - early photography, surrealists, minimalists, New Wave Filmmakers, and New Media Artists. The Huffington Post is amongst the most well read web publications there is, and artist Jonah Pereti is a co-founder. I think the artist-writer-intellectual-journalist
is a lot more common than
critics think. Constantly being told that it isn't your job as an artist to "think" while publishing opportunities disappear, goes a long way in explaining why artists have been so inactive in the field. And this btw, is changing with the growth in popularity of blogs. Nobody seems to be noting the number of really excellent artist maintained blogs out there, so let me name a few:


I will also note that there are a number of female bloggers are mentioned here. It has not gone unnoticed that while the panel may consist of a fair ratio of men to women, the number of female bloggers mentioned thus far has been none. What's more women don't seem to be commenting. Blogging is not a field that is dominated by men (art blogs notwithstanding), so it would be nice to see a better representation here of the work women are doing in the field.

posted by Paddy Johnson | 05/16/06, 11:33 AM | permalink

re: Discrimination Theatre

There is nothing magical about blogs. The hype around them is maddening. Electronic discussions have been happening long before blogs showed up. Check Usenet's rec.music.classical hierarchy and Dave Lampson's Moderated Classical Music Mailing List for just a few examples.

There are plenty of places where current bloggers and/or working critics can and could engage an audience. Why don't they? Could the lack of control have something to do with it? Self-promotion, apparently the prime motivation for blogging, is seldom tolerated at these neighborhoods unless and until the writer has proven himself through sustained and valuable contribution. There's also a lot of junk. Nothing new there, either.

Blogs _are_ only a technology as Doug McLennan states. The most recent in a long and evolving line. Yes, it's easier for anyone to blog. The barrier has been lowered for the good and the bad. What's usually left out of the mix is the dreadful state of blog commenting software. It is difficult to quote, reply, and engage as in other electronic discussion forums. It is almost as if the people that wrote the packages intended to channel it towards brief "Way to go!" messages by the blogger's friends.

Messaging, email, fingerplans, listservs, Usenet News, webgroups, cheap webhosting, and now blogs. Every one of them was supposed to revolutionize the world like nothing before. Every one of them did have an impact. Every one of them eventually lived down the hype and settled into equilibrium. It's been going on since the early 1970s and probably before then.

Ravi Narasimhan
Redondo Beach, CA

posted by Ravi Narasimhan | 05/16/06, 10:29 AM | permalink

re: Sports and the Arts

Excellent post, but the key difference between sports coverage and arts coverage is that sports writers are rarely required to explain anything. They don't tell you which city a team is from, how the game is scored, or even what position certain athletes play. The reader is presumed to know all these things. That allows sports writing to have a higher level of analysis, since it's directed to the cognoscenti -- even if those cognoscenti are also "the masses."

posted by Lisa Hunter | 05/16/06, 10:29 AM | permalink

re: Let us entertain you

Please note that I made a correction in my post. When I was writing it, I kept reminding myself to not mix up the two Isherwood first names: Christopher is a deceased novelist and conjuror of "I am a camera" while Charles is a very much alive theater critic (and author of the bio of gay porn star Joey Stefano, which I believe Christopher would have enjoyed...I certainly did.) Thanks to Anthony DeCurtis for pointing out my error.

posted by caryn | 05/16/06, 10:20 AM | permalink

re: Different islands

You're not imagining things. I'm an arts journalist and I've seen quotes changed by editors willy nilly. When I was at a large daily newspaper, they had strict rules for changing quotes (ellipses, parentheses, etc.), but lately they don't bother with the niceties--they just change it. Recently, a magazine asked me to go in and change quotes and it was either do that or not get paid. Needless to say, I'm not writing for them anymore.

posted by Lynn | 05/16/06, 10:14 AM | permalink

re: It all matters

Yeah! And don't fan on it.

posted by J@simpleposie | 05/16/06, 9:49 AM | permalink

re: It all matters

I’ve often wondered what would happen if arts journalists were allowed to write with the same level of authority as sports writers. Would we gain back readers? Is possible that in a quest to chase down the mythical “everyreader” with bite-size bits of info we’ve actually ended up alienating them?

You've nailed it. We'd agree that the pseudo-neutrality and dumbing down of criticism in the journalistic press has hurt it. One can look to the fall of the Democratic party as following a similar trajectory - try to take as generic a stance as possible. Meanwhile the Republican media machine is pounding away with very specific and charged opinion. This is not to say arts journalists should emulate Republicans (how depressing), but as you mention, art critics in the press should speak from "somehere," not from nowhere. Or to continue with the sports analogy, as Jim Rome says to his callers - "Have a take and don't suck."

posted by LeisureArts | 05/16/06, 9:24 AM | permalink

re: A podium in the press

Yes, I've noticed those Clurman columns. The Times practically let him use the paper as his platform for not only promoting, but explaining the Group Theatre.

Leafing through those old Arts sections, you get the sense of such lively debate.

Nowadays, the Times clearly sees such debate as a threat. If an artist wants to respond to a Times review, they have to take it to a fringe publication.
Or, of course, to the internet...

posted by Playgoer | 05/16/06, 8:43 AM | permalink

re: Insert head (A) in sand (B)

I agree with your comment on Hayes' point; he's wonderfully schizoid about blogging -- he's clearly contemptuous of the majority of bloggers (and perhaps the medium itself), but simultaneously (given the context) he wants to tout the superiority of the Times's own blogs, the quality of which is somehow going to be guaranteed not by their content but by the Times moniker . . .

posted by David Mackinder | 05/16/06, 8:40 AM | permalink

re: Missing in action

Absolutely, Terry!

Of course, practioner-reviews is standard, um, "practice" in book reviewing, right? Even at the NYT.

Yet, while we love to read Updike in the New Yorker on Jonathan Safran Foer, imagine how taboo it would be to ask Stephen Sondheim to review the new Michael John LaChusia musical.

And what a fascinating read it would be!

posted by Playgoer | 05/16/06, 8:40 AM | permalink

re: Discrimination Theatre

Nothing magical about blogs, he says. Nothing magical about blogs?

Well, maybe not in a literal sense, but even with regards to your chosen topic of critical content, there is something wondrous happening in the blogosphere that was never possible before in history.

Cheap, easy publication has been around for a long time, sure, but 'publication' always meant physical product, that by the very nature of it being cheap and easy to produce meant that its distribution would be severely limited.

By creating a virtual product that essentially lacks a production cost, the door is open to both unlimited content and unlimited viewership. In the critical world, that has created a sea change where guys like Steve Smith & Alex Ross, who are circumscribed by the limits of what their day jobs will let them publish, can fully engage on any subject they choose.

As opposed to getting 300 words and competing for attention, they are free to discuss at whatever length they choose the subjects of their choice on their blogs. That's pretty radical, and pretty unique to the blogosphere.

posted by jodru | 05/16/06, 8:33 AM | permalink

re: Considering the hybrid

Back in the days when I wrote profiles for the Sunday New York Times and elsewhere, I looked upon the form as a species of criticism, an opportunity to put the artist in a wider perspective. I still think that's the right way to do them.

posted by Terry Teachout | 05/16/06, 8:12 AM | permalink

re: Sports and the Arts

Responding to LeisureArts: The arts/sports comparison is false, as far as I'm concerned, but then I didn't make it in the first place. (I was just commenting on it and, hey, isn't that what we do here in the blogosphere?) Of course, it's hard to explain certain aspects of any game to the uninitiated, but complexity and depth are not the same thing. Understanding how to execute a zone defense and developing an understanding of King Lear or "Visions of Johanna" are different orders of experience, it seems to me.

But whatever. The more important point you raise, in my view, is how people are educated about sports and, by implication, not about the arts. It's easy to goof on sports announcers, but anyone who turns on the TV and watches a game hears a level of discussion and analysis that, at least until recently (at least theoretically), has been much harder to come by in the arts. That helps shape an analytic approach to the game and encourages insight, argument and incisive points of view.

If every night there were twenty plays on television with smart, engaged people offering running commentary, people would likely be more fluent in the nuances of acting, staging and the theater in general. But, then again, they might not be, because... well, Eugene O'Neill demands more of viewers than a basketball game does, and not everybody wants to engage that or is up for dealing with it.

posted by Anthony DeCurtis | 05/16/06, 8:11 AM | permalink

re: It all matters

And let’s not get caught up in the legitimacy game of who is the real critic and who isn’t. For now, it’s whoever has the gumption to write and post their opinions.

So many of these posts allude to the idea of authoritative criticism like a poobah decrying what's good and bad or merely passable. A sense of the meaning less often attributed to the idea of criticality is that of something crucial or vital that cannot be done without. Your use of the word gumption gets at it and it is palpable in good criticism wherever you find it.

posted by J@simpleposie | 05/16/06, 8:00 AM | permalink

re: It all matters

"And without bloggers, we might not even be having this conversation".

Amen! And the print media would show less and less interest in covering the arts. Blogging has proven there is an audience for a wider more indeph coverage.

posted by Mark Barry | 05/16/06, 7:39 AM | permalink

re: Discrimination Theatre

Regarding unreliability, when I used to work in the comic book biz, I'd be repeatedly incensed at the inaccuracies in the traditional press when they focused their attention on comics. I imagined what they were getting wrong in all the areas that I didn't know as much as about or have an insider perspective - you can see this is you watch a Congressional hearing on C-SPAN and then peruse the coverage in the next day's paper. This situation is more likely to occur in an area like comics where the reporter just dips in and out and less likely to happen where the reporter is able to establish a beat and gain long-term experience with the topic and the players. This is where the current trend with newspapers dropping or downsizing their arts sections becomes worrisome because without long-term attention from a dedicated staffer, the chances of inaccuracies rises.

posted by Todd W. | 05/16/06, 7:39 AM | permalink

re: Sports and the Arts

Anthony DeCurtis: "the fact that sports are a lot easier to understand and require less of the spectator than the arts"

This is arguable. In both fields, the level of understanding required varies dramatically. Have you ever tried explaining football to someone who's not been socialized in the US? And just understanding the basic mechanics of the game is still a far cry from understanding the strategic difference between "Cover 2" defense and man to man. There's plenty of historical background (rivalries, coaching histories, who played for what team, the development of various offensive and defensive philosophies, etc.) required for really understanding the game. Your perception that sports "ask less" seems to be ignoring that sports (in the US) are promoted and present at nearly every educational level and institution and that this might make it easier for the "casual" spectator to acclimate.

There's plenty of work in the arts that asks little of their viewer and there's plenty of work that is enhanced by a sophisticated knowledge of the field. The problem is that the arts don't do nearly enough to cultivate that knowledge. A major culprit in all of this is the continued top-down conversational economy so prevalent in the arts which stands in stark contrast to the multiplicity of bottom-up conversational venues in sports. If that's faux-populism, then all hail the faux!

posted by LeisureArts | 05/16/06, 7:19 AM | permalink

re: Discrimination Theatre

The recommendation engine/advocate function only goes so far, though.

I see--and use--critics as reporters of an individual encounter with art. They can provide context and interpret and judge, but they also serve as a proxy for me, the reader.

Or at least, I imagine and expect to find myself in the critic's position, face to face with art, in attendance at a performance, or reading the same text.

This kind of reporting is by definition subjective, and I can find and judge and come to trust (or dismiss) a critic's ability wherever I find her.

posted by greg.org | 05/16/06, 6:59 AM | permalink

re: Twin tracks

Ben's quite right. One of the things that's changing (I hope) is that print begins to legitimize the online critical community as the online critical community legitimizes the print world. We bloggers already do that by frequently linking to print criticism and information that we find interesting or worthy of discussion. On the other hand, the online world ...

And I look at the front page of artsjournal.com itself this morning. Of the "Daily Arts News" (and sometimes these links are to essays and reviews, not to news stories exactly), I find of the 18 stories listed 5 links to the New York Times, 5 to the Guardian, and several others scattered among more MSM, including the BBC and Yahoo! ... and absolutely no links to any blogs, which are relegated to their own column on the right hand side of the page. If editors continue to believe that the only issues and stories and opinions worthy of note are to be found in MSM -- even in an online publication like artsjournal.com -- how can the rest of the print world be expected to follow?

posted by George Hunka | 05/16/06, 6:44 AM | permalink

re: Sports and the Arts

I'm probably the only former sportswriter here (once upon a time I covered college hoops, football and the NFL), so let me take a whack at this:

There is no straightforward coverage comparison to be made between the arts and sports, at least not the way sports are covered by most papers (as a series of games, not as the broader story of society and societal issues played out on the pitch).

But arts sections could learn from this: Sports pages have built strong voices by hiring smart, engaged, passionate columnists and letting them say whatever they want. They then promote those voices with placement and advertising. Arts sections would do well to learn from that. Instead most arts editors shy away from strong, controversial opinions. (Oh no! Will I get blamed if too many people object to like what Jack Critic wrote? If he goes almost too far? If he gets -- GASP -- political?)

posted by Tyler Green | 05/16/06, 6:41 AM | permalink

re: Twin tracks

One problem that we constantly stumble across when talking about internet-related developments is that we mistake the term "new media" for "replacement media". I propose that we consider blogs not as part of some evolutionary war, with "old media" mistaken for the neanderthals, but instead consider the internet as parallel media.

If we think of blogs as parallel media, then we can see that it is in the new relations (and relationships) between media in which their importance rests. It's in what these links facilitate and thus create rather than in what they are.

Nobody thought that pamphlets would replace novels, did they?

posted by Ben ellis | 05/16/06, 6:04 AM | permalink

re: The Issue Isn't Blogs

Depeche Mode has been making records for 25 years or so now. The notion that failing to cover them at this point is some sort of failure of nerve is a little silly, worthy though they might be. Now that they have the technology to do so, those 50 people would be having the same conversation if every media outlet in the country had written about the group -- and why not? It's just not of any conceivable interest to anyone who doesn't share their obsession.
As for the other infinite number of groups "discovered" in blogs, it's a similar thing. They've been brought to the attention of equally niche audiences. Again, there's nothing wrong with that, but it's not exactly blowing up the spot -- unless, that is, you believe that such audiences are inherently superior to mass audiences, which I don't.

posted by Anthony DeCurtis | 05/16/06, 5:37 AM | permalink

re: Discrimination Theatre

How does an arts journalist accumulate the critical capital to make an impact?

You can tell nigh instantly whether a writer knows what he's talking about. You can tell over the course of a few installments whether his critical angle interests you. Good critics apply good writing chops to the experience of looking at art, and they have experiences looking at art worth writing about. A sustained ability to produce the resultant content accumulate critical capital for the writer.

Maybe the more pressing question is how the arts journalist can disperse his critical capital, because that's what we've been witnessing in the traditional outlets and why the blogs have made so many gains against them in terms of producing viable content.

posted by Franklin Einspruch | 05/16/06, 5:33 AM | permalink

re: Discrimination Theatre

With Google digitizing the entire print world and no doubt other entities soon springing forth to digitize everything that can be digitied (for example - every photograph ever taken), does the role of critic as an identifier of important/significant culture have any relevance today? After all, if we get to the point that we can capture, save, access and consume all culture whenever and wherever we want, why do we need someone to tell us which cultural products matter anymore? It is a bit like the US government capturing all information that it possibly can on everyone, warehousing the information and then accessing the information should the need arise. When culture no longer has a shelf-life, why do we need a critic to decide what is "good", "bad", "mediocre" or worth consuming?

And in terms of critics, why would I put more faith in a name brand critic than in a blogger? Critics gain credibility over time - be it a critic publishing in the NYT or a blogger making insightful comments. Certainly that stamp of approval the NYT gives a writer will draw attention to that writer but with blogs being so easy to access, finding and then returning to a worhwhile blog over time levels the playing field between the traditionally established and newly established. It is really a matter of credibiltiy which, again, becomes established over time.

posted by Dallas | 05/16/06, 5:23 AM | permalink

re: A podium in the press

So, here's an interesting question:

Where are the arts editors, who are presumably reading this?

posted by George Hunka | 05/15/06, 9:37 PM | permalink

re: jumper from the corner

Could someone tell me why my comment wasn't approved? What a perfect commentary

posted by LeisureArts | 05/15/06, 8:56 PM | permalink

re: A podium in the press

Indeed, one might put together a hugely stimulating anthology out of the many pieces written for the Times over the years by artists: composers, playwrights, directors, novelists, performers. So far as I know, no one's ever considered editing such a book (which in and of itself speaks volumes).

posted by Terry Teachout | 05/15/06, 8:53 PM | permalink

re: jumper from the corner

Excellent start here. Sports "discourse" if we can use such a term, can be a useful model. In addition to the approach you mention, there's been a culture of fan/audience participation in sports that stands in stark contrast to that of the arts.
We wish art discourse was a little more like the radical populism of sports talk radio where "experts" are debated on nearly equal terms by fans. We delve tangentially into that here and in the comments that follow.

posted by LeisureArts | 05/15/06, 7:34 PM | permalink

re: Depeche Modalities

Isn't the essential issue here one of trust?

It's not about who fact-checks and who doesn't, about who has "experience" and who doesn't.

Art is such a visceral experience, that either a critic shares your sensibilities or they don't. After a while, you learn which reviewers/critics/bloggers match your style.

This isn't to say that you should only listen to people who have exactly the same tastes as yourself. I read political bloggers and "professional" op-ed writers with whom I often disagree, but I don't stop reading them, because they usually have something interesting to say.

In the end, I think this talk of "saving" newspapers or saving critics' salaries is misguided. People will always seek out good critical writing to help them navigate the cultural landscape, regardless of where it's printed.

And maybe fewer people will make a full-time living at it, but that's life.

Technology has been making people unemployed for centuries. There's no reason art critics, of all people, should be immune to that trend.

posted by Frank | 05/15/06, 7:24 PM | permalink

re: Andras and smoke

As important as the writing is, typos and all in my case. Lets not forget the abilty to post images from the gallery opening last night or the day long kinetic sculpture race; pictures linked to a flickr site. Since when has making art been about the $$. Money is wonderful, but we're going to make art and discuss it no matter. The more voices and pictures the better!

posted by mark | 05/15/06, 6:56 PM | permalink

re: In defense of critics

So far in this discussion (which I've relished, by the way; thank you again, Mr. McLennan) no one has yet addressed the probability that the blogs and the traditional outlets are going to become increasingly difficult to distinguish as time goes on. A service offering syndicated blog content to the websites of newspapers already exists. More will come. Eventually, an essay will go from a blog to print. I see a possible future in which newspapers and magazines serve as aggregators of individual talents, similar to how a basketball team works. (Right now, unfortunately, they work more like a university faculty, with entrenched figures at the center surrounded by a part-time pool of adjuncts. You can bet that no one stays past their useful tenure on a basketball team.) Some of these talented people will come out of traditional journalism backgrounds, some will blog, and many will do both. This will affect the very idea of the "professional." If the basketball player analogy holds, it may come to mean "somebody who does what they do better than most other people out there." I see that as positive. I don't believe in credentialling or even training, for their own sakes. I believe in good writing.

posted by Franklin Einspruch | 05/15/06, 5:54 PM | permalink

re: The Issue Isn't Blogs

Your DM comment proves the opposite point than I think you intend. There's a vast creative output that IS of interest to people, but which, for whatever reason, does not enjoy the attentions of the traditional/paid/mainstream/old media editors.

There are 50 Depeche Mode obsessives discussing the album online precisely BECAUSE it got little/no coverage in publications like Rolling Stone.

This dynamic plays out all over the place for older, now-non-hot creatives of all kinds as well as for the discovery, filtering & audience-building process for new artists. I cannot keep track anymore of the number of bands, artists, trends, musicals, or whatever that were 'discovered' by print & tv folk from blogs.

posted by greg.org | 05/15/06, 5:32 PM | permalink

re: Some Comments By Readers...

In popular culture, we the people seem to find the cream of the milk. Good art resonates in a way that can't be stopped, in spite of good or bad critical reviews. It's the phenomena of break out independent films that become blockbusters when productions with budgets large enough to run a small country for a year flop and die. We, the average person, do have radar for good art. In the fine arts, there is a greater process of learning the language, understanding the value, recognizing the nuances and references. So what is the role of the critic? I turn to the weekend section on Friday to pick a movie for date night. I read critics I respect to gain insight into the concert I may never attend or the gallery I may choose to explore. I savor the well-written analysis that holds as much literary value as the book under review. To debate whether blogs will drown out mainstream media is like saying moving pictures will kill legitimate theatre, television is the demise of film. It's more of a complementary and evolutionary process, each medium builds on the next but if it's good, it survives as the fittest. Hopefully the competition will be healthy, bring a standard of good writing to the blogs and a freshening to the mainstream media.

posted by Polita | 05/15/06, 5:16 PM | permalink

re: Writing Well For Pay?

*Ahem* At 43, I don't think of myself as a "kid", and I don't think anyone else does, either. I do the blogging for personal reasons, which include a passionate dissatisfaction with how the mainstream media in Australia covers theatre. And I strive to make my blog well-written, and in fact know of many well-written blogs. Which only goes to show that any generalisation about blogging will not hold when you look at the actual phenomenon. Its strength (as well as, no doubt, its weakness) is crucially in its diversity.

I have made a little money from ancillary activities that stem from my blogging but, sadly, most of my income has to come from novels. I don't know how you solve this. But one aspect of being outside the economic structure is that it gives you a great deal of freedom.

posted by Alison Croggon | 05/15/06, 3:10 PM | permalink

re: Three Cheers Tyler

To readers, there may be much less difference between the unpaid Depeche obsessive and the "established" critic...both in terms of voice and the perceived accuracy/value of the assessments. Readers are more discerning than they often get credit for, and whether the pros like it or not they are driving. They know, for example, not to trust the words of sometone just because she publishes in a newspaper. Any discussion of a "future" for this line of work has to address not just the means of delivery and abovestated issues of professionalization, but what the curious, well informed reader is seeking. my hunch is it ain't just 50 word record reviews.

posted by tom moon | 05/15/06, 2:49 PM | permalink

re: Engaging With The Arts

One thing is certain---Joseph Horowitz does not write in a “faux style,” which he justly criticizes for “overstressing ‘objectivity,’” and for being “boring.” But there is one issue on which most arts critics and writers (not to mention most philosophers of art) are not objective enough, not objective at all, in fact. And that is, the definition of art (or “fine art”). Most critics subscribe, if only implicitly, to the notion that if the artworld says something is art, it is art. Like everything else that exists, however, art can be objectively defined. From this it follows that not everything asserted to be music, for example, is, in fact, music. ---Louis Torres, Co-Editor, Aristos, an online review of the arts

posted by Louis Torres | 05/15/06, 2:15 PM | permalink

re: Welcome

One thing about critics, they sure can't speak louder than a bill collector. I am a non-starving visual artist in Denver, Colorado. I intend to have a successful artlife inspite of art critics. I do however have great admiration for arts reporters. Sincerely- Bob Ragland-Artist.

posted by Bob Ragland | 05/15/06, 11:59 AM | permalink

re: Everyone is a critic.

Very clever, thank you.

posted by hdw | 05/15/06, 11:35 AM | permalink

re: Andras and smoke

We created PORT: www.portlandart.net to augment the serious art discussions going on in and around Portland, Oregon. We sought to evolve the blog as a way to break out of regional navel gazing and address the nearly violent rise in cultural sophistication in the city.

The weeklies and dailies can't discuss things the way we do -- or as frequently. All of our staff are paid and all of our writers are also published in dead-tree media. The experiment is working and we are adding 2-3 more staff members soon, giving us one of the largest art writing staffs on the West Coast. It's been a crazy experiment creating a daily publication that both drives sophisticated discussion and opens the world to our little but rapidly expanding universe... The blog, as Tyler has shown, can more than compete if the content is there. In the visual arts the blog has incredible promise that is already being realized. If you are good and know your stuff, your readers will find you. Also, a lot of the old postmodern discourse is a bloated self servicing contrivance and blogs are where the new discourse is being hammered out.

posted by Jeff Jahn | 05/15/06, 10:59 AM | permalink

re: Let us entertain you

When I read blogs, I don't care if they use video, podcasts or whatever. I'm interested in content expressed well. Whatever format you use, do it well. That doesn't mean you need the best and brightest website design, but that the writing is good, and the site doesn't distract from it. The site should honestly represent the writer and/or the subject.

posted by hdw | 05/15/06, 10:51 AM | permalink

re: Let us entertain you

I was referring to writing, but more importantly, I was referring to NOT writing. As part of my job, I now make videos, cut audio and engage forms of media I never thought I'd tangle with but a year ago. Like a choreographer that has to make choices about staging and music, we, too, have to decide how to tell our stories in the most potent way possible. And text may not always be the way.

posted by Caryn | 05/15/06, 10:20 AM | permalink

re: Insert head (A) in sand (B)

no more than ten percent of artblogs (if that) are “worthwhile stuff.”

That goes for traditional media as well, or anything else, for that matter. If so, blogs are going make an impact solely on volume. The trick is, of course, how to separate the wheat from the chaff, particularly if you're drowning in the stuff.

posted by Todd W. | 05/15/06, 10:04 AM | permalink

re: Let us entertain you

I love this post, if only because it takes a written form that is so dear to blogging - a manifesto of sorts. However, I take issue with only one point -

"The critics now have to perform."

I don't believe that there was ever a point where critics were not performing. To take the famous critic George Bernard Shaw as an example, his desire with critiicsm was to create pieces that anyone who read the paper might enjoy - and if humor, vulgarity, and even perhaps inflamitory language was the way to get readers engaged, so be it.

Any form of writing projects an idea to the reader - we write in ways to keep our readerships engaged. otherwise, we would do reviews in bullet points, rather than paragraphs. Criticism can be, and as your post proved, is, a creative an exciting process. Blogging and traditional criticism are not so far apart as many might think - if the medium is the message, then perhaps the same people in a new space (i.e. Alex Ross) might start producing very different work.

posted by Claire Blaustein | 05/15/06, 9:57 AM | permalink

re: Andras and smoke

In my haste to reply to comments, I forgot my response to the original post.

I wholeheartedly agree that bloggers will win the battle for readers. The lack of outside authoritative bodies, as so many other posts have mentioned, create a situation where the blog can be judged only by its content - a rare even in any form of published media. The potential to categorize the new media as a utopian vision aside - there is much to be said about the potential for it to shake up the traditional ideas of authority and bring new voices into the dialogue about the arts - and everything else.

posted by Claire Blaustein | 05/15/06, 9:48 AM | permalink

re: Andras and smoke

I've been reading this entire larger discussion with a huge smile on my face, and waiting for a moment to jump in. I imagine there will be several other posts after this one, but I thought I'd start here....

I would disagree that blogs will have no ability to upset journals or other traditional media - we just can't see it yet. In academic circles, it used to be that web materials of any variety were unacceptable for use, being too "unreliable" to serve as reputable resources. But that has changed, and with time, so will blogging.

Saying that their content “isn’t important enough to be lasting” I think is greatly underestimating the potential of these writers and what they have to say. At what point did immediacy relinquish accuracy? Or insightfulness?

I don’t wish to presume that blogging will take over the world, but the thing about the internet is that we don’t know what to do with it yet. As a society we have only scratched the surface of it’s abilities to help us communicate or learn or simply exist. I would be leery at undermining its potential.

posted by Claire Blaustein | 05/15/06, 9:43 AM | permalink

re: Let us entertain you

Yes, that relationship with readers is key. But you have to truthfully want to engage with people. Some people fake it and it's painfully obvious.

posted by Caryn | 05/15/06, 9:29 AM | permalink

re: Let us entertain you

Amen. Brand-building.

Some critics already do this. For example: New Yorker music critic Alex Ross has a blog: The Rest is Noise.

Another key point that I'd tack on here is that when critics have a web presence there is an easy way for readers to talkback to them. I've noticed that readers really seem to enjoy that. Having my email address on my blog has been hyper-valuable in lots of ways, from developing sources to getting yelled at when I screw up.

posted by Tyler Green | 05/15/06, 9:02 AM | permalink

re: Writing Well For Pay?

If I didn't blog, magazines and newspapers never would have called with paying work. And I would like to think I have a built-in audience willing/ready to buy books by me.

A blog is essentially marketing-made-public. It also has a nice side-benefit: Because people in the industry (the visual arts) know me from the blog, I have access for paying work. And because I have access to industry folk, I learn things that I can turn into paying work. It's a self-feeding cycle.

posted by Tyler Green | 05/15/06, 8:49 AM | permalink

re: Andras and smoke

Regarding the "voices that will be forgotten," I praise your idealism for blogs but I think you've got it turned around. Blogs are much more easily forgettable than articles published in peer reviewed journals.

Blogs often give news, and like newspapers, are discarded from day to day. Yes, they are way ahead of scholarly publications, but their content is not important enough to be lasting.

Published articles, on the other hand, will be used by the following generations in a very different way than blogs will be used.

I don't think that anything will be made obsolete by blogs. Rather, blogs are filling a void. But they don't threaten the stability of any other form of dialogue.

posted by Jason | 05/15/06, 8:18 AM | permalink

re: Andras and smoke

Yeah, I turned around and overstated your observation. I still think there are quite a few more than "a few" newspapers with full-time art critics. But it's true that fine arts coverage at newspapers faces big and growing competition--in often tighter spaces--from TV, movies and various forms of popular music. And, wrongly in my opinion, newspapers have decided that emphasizing local (or parochial, if you will) coverage will get more readers than a broader scope and perspective.

posted by scott cantrell | 05/15/06, 7:33 AM | permalink

re: Andras and smoke


Except I didn't say there were only four newspapers with full-time art critics. (FWIW, I linked to Kutner over on MAN earlier this morning. And there is a link to the DMN arts page on my blogroll. So I obviously read.)

I still think this is true: As the art world (and the collecting and exhibition practices of American museums) have become increasingly international in scope, arts coverage at the overwhelming majority of newspapers/magazines has become more narrow. Bloggers help fill that gap -- they're all over the place, both geographically and otherwise. (Heh.)

posted by Tyler Green | 05/15/06, 7:04 AM | permalink

re: Andras and smoke

Contrary to your statement, there are a lot more than four American newspapers with full-time art critics. And Dallas Morning News art critic Janet Kutner covers a fair bit of major out-of-town stuff. Maybe not as much as in richer times, but still a fair bit. Sweeping statements, fun as they may be to make, do not enhance our journalistic reputation if they're not accurate.

posted by Scott Cantrell | 05/15/06, 6:57 AM | permalink

re: Full Circle

Interesting post, though it begs for clarification about why this inevitability of filters and hierarchies has to be understood as "faux democracy"? That "filters" and "hierarchies" naturally emerge, as you suggest, doesn't self-evidently diminish the medium's "democratic" character. To the contrary, democratic systems most frequently DO seek to bring order, and some semblance of structure, where there is cacophany.

The development of blogrolls are a case in point, right? Each blogger self-certifies him/herself as a reliable guider of opinion, and adds a list of preferred blogs to their own. That's hierarchy, that's filtering. But its also a perfectly democratic process of opinion formation.

posted by mpw | 05/15/06, 6:37 AM | permalink

re: Welcome

Not to quibble much with Mr. Mandel, but the growing blogosphere is going to affect all the issues he discusses -- as the intense flurry of posts from both participants and commenters over these first two days of this discussion indicates. It may be the defining issue of arts journalism today, as political blogging was the defining issue of political journalism a few years ago.

posted by George Hunka | 05/15/06, 5:38 AM | permalink

re: Welcome

Don't get stuck here on the issue of blogging , please, fellow arts journalists. Some of the bigger issues are intellectual property rights, outlets for freelancers, pay scales keeping up with the rest of the economy, the failure of the leadership organizations behind the National Critics Conference to follow up their mandate, the ignorance of the general arts public about the value of critics, the dismissal by the overall culture of the importance of critical thinking. I hope the Philadelphia convention will shed some light on how to move forward, together, dealing with these problems.

posted by Howard Mandel | 05/15/06, 5:15 AM | permalink

re: The Issue Isn't Blogs

I like reading art blogs because the blogosphere creates a mini community where people have the same interests. I don't think blogs replace arts journalism (except for a handful, like Tyler Green's, which really ARE arts journalism). They're more like commentary on mainstream media coverage -- the on-line equivalent of all-night bull sessions in the dorm.

posted by Lisa Hunter | 05/14/06, 9:04 PM | permalink

re: Break Rules

I think some of what you say regarding your first point, Joseph, is quite true and attributable to the media's attempt to avoid the appearance of a "conflict of interest," an odd bird indeed. Classical music journalism may be quite affected by this, but most of the critics I know have had musical training, so they can know whereof they speak.

I can only speak with any (and slight) authority on theater criticism and journalism, but it strikes me that some of finest 20th century theater journalism came from those who probably wouldn't be able to pass that litmus test of conflicted interests. We can certainly cite Shaw here. We can even cite Walter Kerr, who though not a playwright himself was married to a quite popular Broadway dramatist and ran in the same circles as those whose shows he regularly reviewed. So I'm not sure that this attempt to separate practitioner from critic has had a particularly positive effect in the quality of the journalism.

That said, American theater criticism has been rife with critic/practitioners: Eric Bentley and Robert Brustein, in particular, who are not only fine critics but also in their enthusiasm had major influence on both American theater journalism and practice in the mid-20th century. Current editorial practices suggest that the next Bentley or Brustein won't come from the print media, which has no space for longer essays on the art, and retains a careful eye on this new kind of newsroom objectivity. The next Bentley or Brustein will likely emerge from the blogosphere.

posted by George Hunka | 05/14/06, 7:57 PM | permalink

re: Is Blogging the Panacea?

George, thanks for the mentions of some interesting blogs, including yours which I've just had the pleasure of checking out and will do so again.

A list in my paper on good theater criticism blogs (as opposed to info sites, which I routinely mention) would certainly be worthwhile, and I'll propose it.

But the two other links you provided in your comment got me nowhere in cyberspace -- is it just my home computer screwing up, or are the addresses off?

thanks -- Misha Berson

posted by Misha Berson | 05/14/06, 7:11 PM | permalink

re: Depeche Modalities

Claude's point about no-name/ano-name consumer "review" is, I think, key to the appeal: no one need know what the Real Person really thinks. Shills can go by m/any names.
As Offical Journalists, our name, our sign, our scat remains to claim us: we, the Actual Person are responsible for our words and what they represent.
Yes, much art journalism is unreadable gobblygook.
Insider, obtuse crap that comes across as more masturbatory than celebratory. Alas, much that makes blogland applies to the latter, as well. To paraphrase Beuys (thanks, Andras) everyone a critic. That may be current, but I believe inaccurate. Critics and otherwise arts journalists, through experience and knowledge and training (and good editors) have a b.s. omerter not at hand for everyone, no matter how opinionated and tech-able they may be.

posted by Karen Michel | 05/14/06, 6:34 PM | permalink

re: Is Blogging the Panacea?

Thanks for the plug, George, though the links have superfluous commas - Theatre Notes and The Morning After.

Writing in any medium, I believe fervently, creates its own legitimacy. Or not. I started my own blog as an experiment: could I, by offering the kind of discussion that is not available in our daily papers, create a legitimacy without the huge economic machine of the print media to back me up? The answer, in a small way, is yes, of course it's possible. I work more or less as any other critic, as part of the press; I get the press releases and tickets and so on. The only difference is that I don't get paid.

Australian newspapers and news magazines don't have fact checkers, which are a peculiarly American phenomenon, but we do have sub-editors; I've worked as one myself. And, yes, I have to do my own subbing, and sometimes I do wish I had a copy editor to pick up the typos and errors that I miss on first reading. The up side is that I am unhampered by how much space is available for the arts today (according to how much advertising has been sold) or by an editor's perceptions of what arts coverage ought to be, ie, more consumerist, less interested in the art itself. I have the luxury of taking it seriously.

The blog also allows me to inhabit a space between critic and artist (I am a novelist and poet) in a more ambiguous way that is, for me, much more interesting than the conventional pose of a critic. A blog by its nature is dialogic, open-ended, in progress. This openness of form has its downside, of course. But, as George points out, the structure of print media is no guarantee either against poor, un-disinterested or plain inaccurate criticism.

posted by Alison Croggon | 05/14/06, 4:16 PM | permalink

re: Is Blogging the Panacea?

Oh, and an "Editor's Note," as a print publication would have it: Alison Croggon's "Theatre Notes" is at http://theatrenotes.blogspot.com , and Chris Boyd's "The Morning After" is at http://chrisboyd.blogspot.com , so you can see for yourself.

posted by George Hunka | 05/14/06, 1:20 PM | permalink

re: Is Blogging the Panacea?

Well, one of the ways newspapers and magazines can keep their arts pages fresh is to keep hiring some of these new writers -- I've been a proud member of Terry's blogroll for nearly three years, and I'm glad to say I've had the experience of coming to the arts pages of several newspapers and magazines recently, largely on the strength of the writing on my blog.

But a few issues to correct in terms of print media, Misha, with all due respect. First, over the last five years, scandals at The New Republic (Stephen Glass) and The New York Times (Jayson Blair) have demonstrated that the oft-cited fact-checking strength of the print media may be more illusory than supposed. Second, print critics are just as prone to exuberant praise or condescending abuse of shows that really deserve neither.

For the moment, what the best cultural bloggers provide is extended attention to events and trends for which there is little space in the print media today. They offer aesthetic context. In recent weeks, as "documentary plays" like "Stuff Happens" and "My Name Is Rachel Corrie" have made the news, I've written 750 words on Peter Weiss' "The Investigation," a documentary play from the mid-1960s that has been all but forgotten, but provides an example of the form proving that it's had a very long history in the theater. And Weiss's artistry demonstrates the supple qualities of this form besides.

Blogs also offer, through the links and community possible through the Internet, a larger, self-correcting community that only 20 years would have been unthinkable. Alison Croggon and Chris Boyd, both of whom either have been or are print critics for Melbourne daily newspapers, are halfway around the world, but in the discussions on our blog, and in linking to each other from our entries, we invite a continuing dialogue about the health of the art we care about -- theater -- that welcomes comment from the world, and unmoderated comment at that. It also keeps us on a day to day basis informed of international trends in this art, something we've got only occasionally in the Sunday arts sections.

Just because the Web sites of newspapers and magazines can boast an astronomically greater circulation than any individual blogger (or, for that matter, group of bloggers) does not mean this is where the best can be found. Some of it is very good indeed. The effort to encourage the cream of the crop is somewhat hobbled by accusations of irresponsibility. Though I must say I don't mind being "zesty" either. And I don't mind that the blogosphere also gives me the chance to write about trends in art and music that tangentially affect the form I've chosen as the discipline in which I want to spend my creative and critical career.

And maybe regular references, in print, by print critics, to our writing would help to dissipate some of this cloud of illegitimacy. Terry's been very good about this for many years. How about the rest of the print media? I still await a regular listing of cultural blogs in the Arts -- or, for that matter, the Circuits -- section of the New York Times.

posted by George Hunka | 05/14/06, 1:00 PM | permalink

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