Next week I’ll attend Superscript: Arts Journalism and Criticism in a Digital Age. This three-day international conference will be held at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
The event promises to raise questions about the role of the arts writer, and examine how the Web has changed the way artists tell their stories.
Kenneth Baker, recently retired as art critic for the San Francisco Chronicle, wrote a thoughtful farewell piece that touches on these issues, and especially how we, as individuals, view art.
Read the full article here.
“…a problem that money cannot solve afflicts the San Francisco art scene, because it afflicts the culture at large: what we might call a degradation of engagement.
It is against this tendency—hardly new, but alarmingly intensified by digital technology—that I have always set myself as a writer on art.
We are, to paraphrase the poet John Ciardi, what we do with our attention.
Immersion in digital media has the peculiar effect of making it inordinately difficult to know what we are doing with our attention at the time.”
“Fantasy gains traction and a taste for the real dulls accordingly. So it doesn’t surprise me, though it certainly discourages me, to hear gallery proprietors here and elsewhere lament that no one comes in to look at art anymore, even though sales continue to be made.”
Art sales continue when few people actually take the time to view art in person? Why do we cordially accept similitude? Is this the age, as Fran Lebowitz said, of the blind art collector? Baker continues to describe why we need direct contact with art.
“Even in the pre-digital world, we needed works of art—especially static ones—to help us learn how to sense what we do with our attention and the skills of self-formation that can arise from it.
Every time we accept a digital reproduction of an artwork as a substitute for the real, resistant, sometimes disappointing thing, the skill of being who we are or might be degrades a little.
As art fairs proliferate to the point of cancelling one another out, I hear gallerists asking aloud whether the old retail showcase model of their business makes sense in the art economy of tomorrow (meaning today). It will always make sense to people who care about looking at art, especially if they cannot afford to buy it. The public service that galleries have long performed is coming into sharper focus as their existence is jeopardized or annulled.”
Baker echoes the complaint of my old friends, people who actually remember an active, pre-Internet life in the arts.
“What I see less and less often, in the art realm and every other realm invaded by digital devices and their corporate puppeteers, is people savoring their experience.”
Here Baker describes how he sees his role as an art critic.
“The exhortation to do that has always been implicit in my urging readers to see this or that. My opinions matter less, I have always thought, than the chance to elaborate examples of how art is encountered, understood and enjoyed.
The pleasures of art are complex and cannot be hurried. They remain available in inestimable abundance, but they cannot be quantified by an admission price, a sale price or even the price of one’s time.
In a culture obsessed by what can be quantified, and better yet monetized, this point has become increasingly difficult to communicate.”
The Superscript conference will bring together hundreds of people interested in how to overcome what is, no doubt, “difficult to communicate.” My kind of crazy.