Thursday May 10, 2007

Art journalism panel

art journalism panel
Left to right: Me, Joanne Green, Elisa Turner, Omar Sommereyns, Anne Tschida. Photo by Onajídé Shabaka, Miami Art Exchange.

The panel was a riot. Silvia Karmen had this very interesting opening statement that touched on a number of interesting topics that I was looking forward to getting into, but it turned out that the crowd pretty much had one thing on its mind — they want more arts coverage. More coverage overall, more intellectual/critical writing, and better listings. I thought the format was really brave; it allowed audience members to jump in with questions/comments pretty much any time, which lead to a rollicking discussion, with moderators, panelists, and audience members all occasionally fighting to get a word in edgewise (kudos to Claire for stepping in when needed). Anyway, it (the format) ensured that Franklin’s fears were moot — members of the audience were very open with their concerns right from the get-go, and they kept the conversation where they wanted it.

To that end, the consensus was that improvements in arts coverage (both in quantity and in quality) will happen when the editors of our local publications come to believe that there is a strong demand for it. I promised to provide contact information for those editors, and here it is:

Personally, I think that paper letters are most effective, followed by phone calls, followed by e-mail. (Feel free to send me more specific information for these folks, or additional names that we should contact).

One of my suggestions for addressing the lack of arts writing was to call for a community of Miami arts bloggers. Someone asked “how do you get people to start an art blog” or something, and I never got to answer, but here it is: you encourage them. Grab them by the scruff of the neck and yell at them if you have to. There are lots of kids in college who are (a) majoring in journalism but interested in art or (b) majoring in art but interested in journalism or© majoring in something else but interested in both of the above. My message to these kids would be: start the damned blog! It’s easy, and you’ll be doing something that needs doing. There should be a whole range of blogs just about art — you can be completely silly and trivial, completely serious and academic, or anything in between. Compare Wormhole and Modern Art Notes — they couldn’t be more different, yet they both contribute something to the same community.

For their part, the panelists were smart and constructive. The time definitely flew by. I also wanted to say that I did this panel not because of any particular commitment to journalism or art, but because panels are fun, and I wasn’t disappointed. The discussion was great, and I got a chance to meet some very interesting people afterwards, for which I’m very grateful.

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  1. knowone    Thu May 10, 12:09 PM #  

    sounds pretty tamed.
    for a more effective discourse there needs to be more in regards to the scope that art writing concerns itself. too often, it’s simply too incestuous (sp?), not just in regards to the artist and their connections- but also in regards to the medium (dance, music, film, ect.). writers can’t be bothered with small, ‘nothing shows,’ shows that aren’t billed by big local names in the visual arts or otherwise. it’s just not relevant because this is the writer’s hobby and not his prime interest (probably even something she/he hardly gets paid for, if at all!), so they aren’t looking for what’s out there, they’re simply documenting what comes their way. which is fine, it’s great that they actually do this but that is the problem: we don’t really have professionals out there in search of what’s happening everywhere; on the streets, in music, within the different communities of art, graffitti crews, academia, ect. there isn’t a consensus on what’s valid, so to appease the ‘need’ for a city to have a cultural scene or aspect, the mass-diseminating venues half-ass the effort and delegate the job to a meager few. who, as much as they try in the end, would benefit from more contributors, who are exclusively dedicated to surveying the art-WORLD and giving us the whole picture of the “thing itself.” of course, as much discipline and love as one may have for all the arts it needs to be, to some extent, a remunerated service, period. as for myself, i do what i can, just like the others who i claim aren’t doing enough…..always trying to integrate in my own little world.

  2. lara    Thu May 10, 12:30 PM #  

    thanks for the summary of the panel, alesh. it’s interesting to me that the number one priority for folks was more art coverage. curious to me….is it that people in the “community” want to know about art, artists, and art events? or is it that “artists” want more “coverage” in the news media? or any other possibility?

    i heard a report on npr the other day which explained that most people (whatever that means) don’t think of blogs as real news sources. i thought this was a bit off, since, especially in my case, blogs are where i find lots of great information. your blog, for instance, has enabled me to keep up with miami, even while i am away. food blogs offer great recipes, and travel blogs offer insights into restaurants, hotels, etc.

    that being said, i think that if the concern is really for more coverage, and not necessarily publicity, then blogs are a good way to go.

    anyway, i should stop here, since this is only a comment, and not my own personal, blog post…

  3. alesh    Thu May 10, 02:26 PM #  

    sorry, no time to read the comments right now. just wanted to mention that there WAS a recording made. I believe locust will be posting it.

  4. hand that feeds    Thu May 10, 02:35 PM #  

    sorry i missed out on this. i’m glad to see that the flavorpill website was not being represented on the panel. i was very excited when the site first came to miami after friends had told me about it, but their local “art criticism” is nothing more than ultra-positive tail wagging. i’m not even sure that contributors can objectively criticize a work of art there, based on company policy. to me, that’s a large problem with local art criticism in miami. the critics can’t be critics because the art scene is too small. they are biting the hand that feeds them essentially and the only “hand” that reads their writing for the most part and the hand they socialize with off-work. It’s a sad dilemma I’m afraid, made even more pathetic because it reflects the art world on a larger scale.

  5. RL    Thu May 10, 07:15 PM #  

    Sorry I missed the panel discussion.

    You can’t turn a dinosaur into a racehorse,
    so I don’t think you can count on the Newspapers to add more coverage for the local arts. Newspapers are
    hurting bad right now, readership is down and so are revenues.
    they only care about reaching the largest audience and that
    means if didn’t paint a picture of Britney Spears as the Virgin Mary
    it probably won’t be covered. These same issues about arts coverage have been around for twenty years and although I wish they would change I don’t see it in the future. I say look to the internet for good local arts coverage and forget about the newspapers.

  6. J    Thu May 10, 09:52 PM #  

    What do we want to cover exactly, when most of it (i’m speaking of the local visual arts scene) is rather mediocre? Because we are under the impression that miami is a bubbling art town, we fool ourselves into thinking we need more arts coverage. I mean who wants to spend time writing and covering bad art?—it’s a waste of time—people want the good and interesting stuff—and sadly, not a lot of local galleries/museums or artists can provide this…what do we expect when our visual culture is dominated by South Beach?—it all becomes like a fucking fashion show. Look at Snitzer gallery or Locust. People buy into this. it definitely leaks into the visual arts. What I’m saying is that instead of tyring to take ourselves so lightly, maybe we should start taking ourselves seriously—as this panel discussion has tried to demonstrate, so that at least some sort of real and authentic community exists—i know this sounds anti-postmodern or whatever, but look at where the local art scene is without any intellectual backbone? We can’t rely on our academic instutions for visual studies because they are horrible, and sometimes not even local art critics because they just write to fluff their friends. if part of the arts coverage is going to expand, local artists need to step it up—I mean they don’t—honestly I couldn’t care less—but for what we are talking about here, it would be a treat.

  7. hand that feeds    Thu May 10, 10:11 PM #  

    i agree with J. but i feel that local “art critics,” you can count them on one hand evidently need to enlighten artists and readers of art criticsm about what is bad in the first place. we live in a city with what is simply a lot of bad art and our art critics should call this out. but that all leads back to my prior post. as for asking kids in college to start art blogs, i really wonder how many are out there with those interests. and i wonder why journalists here don’t start their own sites to feel the void we all see. most journalists have blogs outside of their work, so they should step it up before college kids do. even do it anonymously. thing is, they’d only be anonymous for two days in this town. it’s more like a half circle than a full circle.

  8. jordan    Fri May 11, 07:00 AM #  

    Nice. A panel.
    I love people…
    Who cares really folks ?

  9. knowless    Fri May 11, 10:01 AM #  

    what the hell? when was the last time j and hand that feeds went to any art show that their friends weren’t in? there is stuff you DON’T know about, stuff that’s good, alright, and/or better than you’d imagine in your little, secluded world!

    in this town, critics don’t enlighten they merely describe the work; they have a day job and do this (art assesment) as some sort of side effort that leaves any critical discourse out of the picture…one thing about the panel last night (at snitzer) is that it seems factual that the artist must create the dialogue, with the work and outside of it…we have to talk amongst ourselves, as well as others everywhere, anywhere!

    jordan: really, who cares? i do.
    a panel just shows how there is a desire to communicate….it seems that in the end that’s what needs to change; instead of having an “art scene” there needs to be an art community, so everybody can stop bitching about prominence and start indulging in relevance. where have you

  10. cohen    Fri May 11, 12:06 PM #  

    uhoh…. miami and its art scene inc community….
    Again art is still very new to this town…
    this is whats exciting and horrible about the MIA.
    Its up to the artist here to make its history.

    if it ends up becoming like everything else here.{provincial} it s the fault of the artist in this city. Not the Gallerist, not the Museum Curators, Not Academia, Not BASEL....Not the Collectors /....YOU/US

  11. Hiasl the Chimp    Fri May 11, 01:44 PM #  

    To Hand that Feeds: Omar writes for Flavorpill.

  12. Franklin    Fri May 11, 04:31 PM #  

    There was a rousing call for increased art coverage at a meeting in 2000 at Bernice Steinbaum Gallery. Chuck Strouse attended, and promised that coverage would increase. Five years later, Shelly Acoca promised the same thing. I said it then, and I’ll say it again: the Herald demonstrably doesn’t give a shit. Bury them in letters if you want to – I’ve been watching them get the third degree from the art community for seven years, and their asses are thoroughly glued to their chairs.

    What Alesh is telling you now – start blogging – is what I told him and what I told KH over at TNFH. Alesh is correct. If you want more coverage, you are going to have to make it yourself.

  13. hand that feeds    Fri May 11, 05:31 PM #  

    Re: Knowless. Sorry, I find your response juvenile at best. Are you one of the panelists? Your defensive nature makes the case. Your statement that “critics don’t enlighten, they merely describe the work” is a paradox and an easy out in this discussion. These “critics” are not critics then. Visit a dictionary.

    In all my years reading art criticsm, I’ve never heard of a journalist moonlighting as “an art assessor,” either. If this is tantamount to how Miami’s “art critics” feel, maybe they should begin publishing the press releases and explanations directly from this city’s gallery owners and curators.

    Art critics should objectively criticize art when necessary. Otherwise, their writing creates an art world where neutrality is the currency. This, all works and artists are good. Flavorpill for instance, in lieu of the company’s hip 30something cache, only publishes ultra-positive reviews of local exhibits. Never once have I seen an art writer there take a risk and take a stand to create debate. That’s part of the enjoyment of art Knowless, the debate of whether it’s great art, promising, or less.

    Miami’s “art critics” leave much to be desired. Imagine if restaurant reviews and reviews of music were this bland and opinion-less. Imagine New Times employing “music assessors.” You wouldn’t dare. Art critics in this town walk on ice, but they’ve yet to realize that they live in Miami and the ice has long thawed. Their reputation will not crack if they voice strong, confident opinions. If they actually produce critical analysis as “critics.” If they continue to only assess, might I say they picked the wrong profession or are truly lackluster at their “side careers.” Assessing will not an “art community” make, though surely it allows for less cocktail consumption to ease the tension. Maybe that’s all that matters to them.

  14. Franklin    Fri May 11, 07:16 PM #  

    There’s no such thing as objective criticism. It’s misunderstandings like this one that make the problem so hard to solve, even by people who have the time and energy to put into it. Catfish, a regular commenter on, pointed out that a critic needs only three things: an eye, honesty to that eye, and the ability to write clear prose.

    Even before this, he has to understand what criticism is: an exercise of taste in literary form. Rallying behind anything that comes along isn’t taste. Edification isn’t taste. Mere description isn’t taste. Taste is the ability to detect artistic quality.

    And perhaps even before that, the art has to be there. I have grave doubts that criticism, considered all together, can be better than the art it describes, considered all together. This is not a great time for art. I just finished reading a first-person account of the NYC art world during the ’50s and ’60s, and descriptions of what goes on in the contemporary art world in Miami look like pretentious cocktail parties by comparison.

    But in Miami there isn’t widespread willingness to accept any of these things or their implications. Too much failed art is being taken too seriously for that to happen. Personally, I came to the conclusion that y’all are stuck with what you have there, but someone could step up to the plate at any time. I hope someone does.

  15. hand again    Fri May 11, 07:50 PM #  

    Well said Franklin. I agree wholeheartedly and have considered leaving Miami on occasion for its lack of quality art, art culture and the serious discussion of it in Miami’s press and now even its digital press. Seeing these panels makes me frustrated at our progress and denial. This has left a local lover of art wondering where the city will go. My guess? More panels like this one, or at least these very same questions for the next decade.

    Re: Knowless, Franklin might have worded my prior posting better. Miami’s art critics need to hone and display exquisitely refined tastes to their readerships and not be afraid to call bad art what it is, bad art.

    Sitting in a gallery in front of a small crowd is, pardon the archaic expression, preaching to the choir. You need to get out and do what you want to see. Don’t have the time? Don’t expect others to have it, in my estimation. Miami doesn’t need “art assessers” it needs real art critics. Bring solutions to the panel next time. Better still, bring examples and proof of what you are doing to improve things.

  16. knowless    Fri May 11, 08:32 PM #  

    hand: i was NOT a panelist yesterday or the day before!
    you call my response “juvenile”, i suppose my style is immature or may be interpreted that way…sorry?
    funny enough, i agree with you. what i wrote of critics, was merely my opinion of those here in miami. i am an artist and dedicate time to art-making and discussion with, almost, every breath i take. i’m not sure why you assume otherwise.

  17. harumi    Fri May 11, 10:43 PM #  

    applause Frankilin.
    >critic needs only three things: an eye, honesty to that eye, and the ability to write clear prose.
    writing is difficult. writing clearly is more difficult.

    Alesh, please can you post Alfred Triff’s speech?? I would like to read it again.

  18. alesh    Mon May 14, 01:16 AM #  

    Just heard back from Mr. Triff — his opening remarks will be published soon in the Sun Post — when they are I’ll be dropping a link, so keep an eye out.