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Art Critic for Indy

estudo critico by Ricardo Biriba

After an IDADA “First Friday” filled with downtown gallery tours — Road Trip at the Harrison Center, Square One at Stutz Art Space, Focus: Midwest at MiCo, Television Hates Itself in the Sidecar Gallery of the Big Car Gallery — you might think the local media would be full of rave reviews or uninspired remarks.

But alas, Indy hasn’t had an art critic for as long as anyone I talked to can remember. Unfortunately, this news is common as papers across the country are eliminating art critics from their press. Just this week the chief dance critic for the Los Angeles Times was canned. Paul Hodgins of The Arts Blog writes:

There’s a pervasive feeling among many decision-makers at newspapers that arts coverage doesn’t matter anymore – or, more accurately, that it’s not important to the kind of readers they’re trying to reach.

In his post Now more than ever, newspapers need arts coverage,” Hodgins notes that most papers are measuring the success of their content by how well it does online, and in turn, change their printed paper to reflect that success:

In this regard, a lot of arts stories just don’t measure up. There’s no way to justify publishing a review of a show at a small storefront theater from a reader-interest point of view. No matter how you market or display that kind of piece, its readership will remain small.

Hodgins goes on to say that most Editors aren’t taking into account the source or quality of the Web hits by which they are measuring a story’s success.

The Indianapolis Star used to have several arts reporters and now has an arts & entertainment reporter and a performing arts writer. It does not have an art critic. It does, however, have a sports critic (columnist Bob Kravitz). Note: reporters gather news and write objectively, while columnists have the freedom to criticize and commentate as specialists on a topic. As a graduate of Butler’s Journalism Program, I have a strong sense of public service as the foundation for media coverage, instilled in me by Dr. Kwadwo Anokwa. It is essential for journalists to engage in the culture of the local community, and this includes comprehensive coverage and criticism of the local arts. Not only would this be beneficial to the success of local artists, musicians and performers, but it also makes economic sense by fostering art patrons and elevating our city to the national stage.

While Indianapolis waits for its own art critic, you can pass the time by reading your art reviews in The New York Times from the talented Holland Cotter and Roberta Smith.

Image courtesy of Ricardo Biriba, “art critic” sketch, 2006. Web site: http://www.biriba.net/

Filed under: Current Events, Local

12 Responses to “Art Critic for Indy”

  • avatar
    Ms. Hello Says:

    Well, Noelle, perhaps you should look a little deeper into folks writing about the arts here in Indianapolis. Just because the Star no longer has Skip Berry, doesn’t mean all is lost. (Besides, I think that some of the interviews that have been done on indy.com recently of curators, artists, writers, etc are engaging.)

    I think that NUVO does a good job of covering some of the arts happenings in Indy. Here are 2 people you should know about that work there and often cover or discuss the visual arts:
    David Hoppe
    Julliana Thibodeaux

    In case you’re interested, there are a few good blogs that write about the arts in and around the Midwest:

    Architecure & City Design:
    Circles and Squares
    http://circleandsquares.blogspot.com/

    Urbanophile
    http://theurbanophile.blogspot.com/

    Midwest Painting
    MW Capacity:
    http://mwcapacity.wordpress.com/

    Indy arts ramblings and bizzar discusions (even an occasional review) can be found at:
    Onthecusp:
    http://www.onthecusp.org/

    And, alas, many reviews, if they are written, don’t come out the day after an opening.

    Keep an eye out there, you may see something in the next week or two. Another note here is that it is possible to have coverage about arts events in Indy (mostly likely from your museum) pubs like Art News and Art in America.

  • avatar
    Yes Says:

    I agree, as a gallery owner, no matter if the review were negative or positive having an art critic in the daily paper would be valuable to me and the Indianapolis art audience. I think we should all ban together and tell the Star either they cover the local arts scene or we aren’t buying their paper.The Star isn’t going to do it unless they have a backlash. E-mail editor Dennis Ryerson at Dennis.Ryerson@indystar.com

  • avatar
    Noelle Says:

    Ms. Hello- You bring up an excellent point which prompts a distinction between a reporter’s review and a critic’s review. I agree, NUVO and the other tabloids do a nice job of providing descriptions of upcoming art exhibitions, events and the people involved with them. However, we still lack arts coverage from a full-fledged critic who would provide evaluation and analysis, not just the facts.

    It is also necessary to have a mainstream outlet that critics the arts to reach the general public, such as the Indy Star.

  • avatar
    lou Says:

    While I don’t pretend to replace what a full-time art critic for the daily paper of record could be doing, I will call your attention to the Indianapolis Business Journal, where I’m reviewing arts and entertainment in a weekly column, sending out a weekly e-mail of arts previews (and ticket giveaways) through IBJ Daily, and blogging on the arts every weekday.
    Stop by for a look at IBJ.com.
    Lou Harry
    Arts & Entertainment Editor
    Indianapolis Business Journal
    lharry@ibj.com

  • avatar
    Noelle Says:

    Thanks Lou. Here is a direct link to Lou’s IBJ Arts & Entertainment blog for the people.

  • avatar
    Ms. Hello Says:

    Clearly the city does need more critical coverage of the arts. I won’t argue that.

    But I don’t think you’ve actually read or listened to anything by David Hoppe & Julliana Thibodeaux. I think it’s rather short-sighted on your part to say what they are doing is simply reporting the facts.

    Here are some examples:
    Hoppe’s Podcast review of the Eiteljorg Fellowship Show:

    What culture looks like

    The biennial Fellows’ show of contemporary art is now on view at the Eiteljorg Museum; go and see what art by people with a real culture looks like.

    http://nuvo.net/updatepodcast.php?url=Hoppe&mp3=39.m4a&id=218

    Here’s a recent Thibodeaux review (look on the side bar for other reviews):
    Lofty art

    L’Oriano Galloni’s “Silent Souls” series
    Evan Lurie Gallery

    http://nuvo.net/articles/lofty_art/

    I’m not saying these folks are the best in the world, but they are doing exactly what you are saying isn’t being done here. Have a look into them and give them credit for what they do.

    If now you want to take up the argument that they aren’t mainstream enough then I don’t know what to say.

  • avatar

    Thank you for the link to my blog, though I should note that my focus is more on urban planning and transportation than art.

    David Hoppe is a great writer on the arts.

    The question I’d ask is: Is Indianapolis ready for a real art critic? That is, someone who is knowledgeable and will strictly judge by the standards of highest quality, knowing that this will result in many reviews being negative? I’m not sure someone who actually writes negative reviews as well as positive ones would be well received for long.

  • avatar
    Chris Says:

    Thanks for the link to MW Capacity, too.

    I know that our blog, at least, is approached a little more like an academic critique/discussion of the work we present. With occassional other content like interviews. We’re definitely NOT professionals, and don’t pretend to be. The “On the Cusp” folks seem a little more together than us, but still there is a big difference between what they do and what someone like Alice Thorson does at the Kansas City Star. A professional critic/journalist would be great for Indy.

    The Star might be a good model. Thorson’s role seems a little fluid–some pieces could be called criticism (though it’s rarely negative), some could be called reporting. She also writes reviews and criticism for national publications like Art in America. (Someone doing this in Indy, for Indy would be a big plus. The benefit of having a local professional critic goes beyond just more coverage in the local paper). The Star has a couple of other people who occassionally contribute to the visual arts coverage as well.

    I do believe that public demand is responsible for the amount of arts coverage in the KC Star. The paper did a make-over a few years ago, and visual arts coverage was pretty sparse for a month or two. It was my understanding that public outcry was responsible for the increased coverage. So some petitioning to the paper really might be an effective tool.

  • avatar

    I found that people said they wanted critique, but didn’t understand the evaluative nature of what they were requesting. What I found most people believed critique to be was a type of promotional praise. My 2-cents in my time writing evaluative critique blurbs from 2001 through 2006…

    A First Person on Art Critiques – Does Indianapolis Really Want Arts Criticism?

    By Mary Lee Pappas
    (former) NUVO art critic
    written spring 2005
    (unpublished)

    Should an art critic write about artists whose work they collect? Should an art critic fraternize with artists they write about? Should they accept gifts from artists they’ve written about, be an exhibition consultant, sit on boards of visual arts organizations, or exhibit their own artworks?

    According to “The Visual Art Critic: A Survey of Art Critics at General-Interest News Publications in America” by Columbia University’s Journalism Program in 2002, there was no consensus among the 169 art critics surveyed (myself the only Indianapolis representative) regarding blanket ethical conduct within the American art world. This perhaps resulting from the public’s equally as uneven expectations of what art criticism ought and ought not to be.

    An opinionated bunch to begin with, participating art critics had to have written at least twelve ”evaluative” pieces the previous year to qualify for the survey. Those are reviews that make judgments regarding quality, purport, and context based on the work, the artist, the venue, the curatorial competence, and sometimes funding. It’s gauging art instead of strictly spouting anthems of advocacy, subjective explanations, and taking strict emotions into account.

    Critics, predominantly employed as part-timers or freelance at both daily and alternative weekly papers, were actually found to be “intimately connected” to their local arts communities. Is this conflict of interest, or fundamental for the role? 24% of us had worked in museums, 18% in commercial galleries, while nearly half of us were artists – 70% of whom exhibit or have exhibited their works. 14% were employed in art-related industries. Four out of five newspaper critics and three out of four alternative weekly critics collect art.

    Though 90% of the critics were curiously Caucasian when multiculturalism in visual art is ever present, well preparedness for their work varied greatly. The majority of practicing art critics had on average 13 years of journalism/art writing experience. 20% of art critics had no formal training in art or art history, while only 26% of us actually had a B.A., M.A. or Ph.D. in art history. But, apparently it doesn’t really matter who’s writing about art anymore.

    Some artists should, “Park their paints,” and let go of ego, pride and fickleness local painter, art historian, and gallery owner Doris Vlasek Hails said to me once. But there has been an increasing trend for artists and arts organizations across the country to steer clear of uncompromising critics and seek-out positive press thereby creating their own undeserving derivative art stars. Some buy it.

    As our local visual arts community flourishes so too do the proliferating and, more often than not, only moderately talented artists who Indianapolis audiences so anxiously and sometimes bafflingly accept. Can anyone who can afford rent at a trendy studio be an artist? Are gallery owners and proprietors actually qualified to choose quality art to present to the public just because they can fund their venues? Who is drawing the line between hobby and excellence? Should critics simply relinquish themselves to this laissez-fare intellect regarding the fine art process and art history thereby giving artists and venues the praise they ultimately fancy? Where does criticism fit in and who really wants it anymore?

    Indianapolis appears to be succeeding at placing novelty (or propaganda at times) above discrimination. The survey makes an example of our city by stating, “Citizens of significant urban agglomerations, including Indianapolis and Las Vegas…do not have the benefit of hearing from an art critic who might qualify for inclusion in this survey,” from a daily paper.

    This perhaps in part because formal criticism doesn’t serve the city’s desires to make Indianapolis a cultural destination overnight. However, celebrating the mundane won’t make it happen either.

    Though art critics across the board thought they were writing for a “lukewarm audience that is not too well steeped in the arts,” nearly two-thirds unfortunately write strictly positive reviews, with “rendering a personal judgement” about the artwork being “the least important factor in reviewing art.” It’s a sorry commentary that’s ultimately destructive of the arts evolution (like Indianapolis’ visual art growth spurt), and the art itself. So are gallery openings where the art plays second fiddle to the party.

    Are arts writers accepting expenses on press junkets? Are papers merely supposed to conform, jump on the promotional bandwagon, and be another form of advertising?

    Perhaps this is an indication that some “critics” should park their pens or thicken their skin. Perhaps local media should give more space and credence to the visual arts cultures of their communities, and artists should challenge themselves to create more than attractive formula paintings accompanied by contrived statements of purpose.

    Local eagerness to be exceptional in the visual arts has created levels of administrative and artistic inferiority that can be remedied by demanding quality and education from those that serve the arts community, critics alike. Inferring that arts audiences and potential arts audiences are un or under educated (as is the rhetoric from artists and arts orgs.) only serves to insult and estrange audiences…as does substandard art.

  • avatar
    pedro velez Says:

    In Puerto Rico we had the same problem…so what we did was become bloggers and publish our reviews independently, we don’t get paid, of course, which sucks, but at least we keep the dialogue developing for the community.

  • avatar

    If anyone has any suggestions as to how INDY.COM can improve it’s coverage of the Art community, please do not hesitate to contact me.

    Obviously, we are hoping more people create accounts, post images of their work and blog via our site. I know there is always more that can be done. Let us know.

    Joe.Montgomery@indy.com

  • avatar
    connoiseur Says:

    There goes Mary Lee Pappass again, self promoting, always self promoting.

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