Sunday, April 10, 2005

Art deserves better


Last week, in my frenzy over discovering Rebecca Mazzei I came across this article by her, which was her first as Arts editor. In it she makes some seriously kick-ass points. She starts out explaining that initially she wanted to write that she
needed to wake up a semi-comatose city, and figured it might grab attention if [she] mentioned that Detroit art dealers, curators, critics and scholars have not-so-nice things to say about visual arts coverage in the local media. [She] was going to follow up their comments with a page-long rant about why [she] think[s] a lot of art writing stinks, in Detroit and across the nation.
Which exactly mirror my thoughts on the situation here in Montreal, and from what I gather could easily be transferred to any number of cities around the world.

However, she then does a complete 180, and turns the column into more of an explanation of why she writes what she writes, ending up closing with this: "The point of good art criticism, I believe, is not to exhaust folks with the definition of art or the details of how, when or why it exists, but to meditate on why we should care." Initially I was going to just file it away as yet another stupendous piece of prose from her keyboard. But this morning, I ran smack dab into this interview with Jon Pareles (for the deaf folk out there Pop music critic at the New York Times). Which while not connected to the visual arts in any way, shape or form was pretty much the same thing from a different viewpoint as Ms. Mazzei's column, from a writer who I respect very much - albeit in a very different manner.

In it he says:
I don't think critics should stay away from anything. A critic should learn as much about music as possible, from any angle that seems interesting: music theory, history, psychology, literature, theater, acoustics, religion, dance, anthropology, film theory, pharmacology, economics, fashion, linguistics, electronics, sports, and all the other things that touch on music.
At the New Music Seminar one year, when I was wearing a name tag, someone came up to me and said, "So you're Jon Pareles. I never agree with anything you write." I shook his hand and was happy to meet him. For that guy, I'm a completely reliable critic; all he had to do was take the opposite of my advice. That's fine with me.
And while I'm as cognizant as the next guy about the difference between music and visual art. And while I can't, for the life of me, remember a darn think that Mr. Pareles wrote in contrast to entire paragraphs of what Ms. Mazzei wrote. I can't help but think that they're coming from the same place.

The reason I bring all of this up - sorry for the long winded intro - is to somehow attempt to explain this here blog. I've told friends before that if I could write like Lester Bangs about the visual arts, I'd be one happy camper. I've also been told by a couple of folk that I'm slightly passionate when I write. Comments like that make me happy. If this were a perfect world I'd consume, explore and devour as much art as possible all the while having a gosh-darned opinion of each and every piece I see. I realize that's sort of a tall order that I am unlikely to be able to fill, anytime. But I'm still gonna keep trying, thanks for bearing with me.

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