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there's that money thing again

Post #250 • April 5, 2004, 12:48 PM • 9 Comments

During the course of the recent discussion about arts writing, Michael Betancourt put up a website and told everyone to put their money where their mouth is: " I will write things there; anyone else who wants to, just say so, and you can - without restraint by me. Just e-mail and I'll make it so." Onajide Shabaka reminded everyone that the Miami Art Exchange "is, of course, open to posting hard-hitting critical reviews." This leads me to make some observations:

  1. Anyone who wants to write art criticism now has two venues that will publish their work online.
  2. It's not like it's all that hard to start your own blog.
  3. Oh, you'd like to be paid?

Me too, and I'm afraid that this is one thing that I never figured out as former editor of the MAEx. Even paying the writers something ridiculous - $25 an article - turned out to be an unsupportable burden on the organization. I never saw a dime from it as editor, and after fourteen months of working on it for free, I gave up and handed the keys to Jide. He also lasted fourteen months and then, with everyone's blessing, restyled the site as a personal project. Because a personal project, you can work on for free and enjoy it. But a public project, as I found out, is an object lesson in how no good deed goes unpunished.

Michael did a good deed. If he posts articles as is, he'll avoid a lot of the hassles that go with editing, but sooner or later someone will submit junk and he'll have to decide whether to sully his site with it or do something editor-like and incur hassles upon himself. With the comments features on the site, maybe readers can do vigilante editing. I'm interested to see what happens.

My original remarks were directed at the tameness of art criticism in the print world, which for the time being has a much greater circulation among the public than websites. The papers also pay their writers, which tends to encourage more professional work. (At least it discourages unprofessional work.) But if blog criticism becomes more interesting, the papers will eventually have to compete with it.

In the meantime, I have two ideas. One, I will bump back the re-launch of Go See Art to May 1, and it will feature Amazon-style reader reviews of shows in the listings. I want everyone to know that this forces me to wrap my brain around PHP parsing of Document Object Model trees in XML on a much hairier schedule than I would like, but I'm willing to do it.

Two, I propose the formation of a new site that will publish two articles a week, fifty weeks per year, and pay the writers $50 an article. (Peanuts! But it's something.) At the end of the fifty weeks, one of those writers whose work has not been published in print before will receive an honorarium of $500. The editor and fundraiser will also receive a $500 honorarium. Here's the deal - I will not, not, not serve as editor or fundraiser. I will publish the site, meaning that I will code it, maintain it, and host it on my server if someone can work in a $500 honorarium for me as well. Total cost of project: $7000, which is nothing. There's probably $7000 in change behind the couch cushions in the homes of our major collectors.

For an editor, we need someone who is affable, experienced, and in possession of weapons-grade intellectual capabilities. I nominate Joel Weinstein.

For a fundraiser (who by necessity will be Executive Officer), we need someone bilingual and visible in the community with ferocious organizational skills, connections, and no ax to grind regarding the content of the project. I nominate Denise Delgado.

It'll work.

Comment

1.

Michael Betancourt

April 6, 2004, 12:50 AM

Nice side-stepping of the issue.

So I'll ask you, Franklin, directly and personally, (And Alfredo, and the others) directly: are you going to write reviews now that you have the forum you specifically requested, or is this complaint just chest-beating?

I have no plans to editorialize. Someone posts something I disagree with, I will comment and say so. Nobody writes any reviews but me, well, I'll give it a month or two--surely enough time--and then we'll see.

If none of the rest of you take this opportunity, then what you've all been saying is so much BS and everyone will see it for what it is. I for one am tired of hearing about how critics need to be more critical. I was, and got hell for it, from some of the same people who are now complaining.

So if this was all a bluff, consider yourselves called on it.

2.

mb

April 6, 2004, 12:52 AM

Nobody writes any reviews but me

should read IF Nobody writes any reviews but me

(correction. Can you make this type any bigger?)

3.

Franklin

April 6, 2004, 7:20 AM

Type is now bigger. I've been meaning to take care of that.

Michael, I have a forum. I have two forums, in fact (this and Street) and just backed out of a third (Accent Miami) partly to give somebody else the floor. I wasn't talking about giving myself another forum. If I participate in your site, I'll probably be excerpting this one. I can't imagine why you would want me to do that, although I'd be happy to be involved if you want me there. (Jide, how about you? Were you thinking about writing separate content for your site and Michael's?)

If it ends up being the three of us and two of us are mirroring content, the only valuable part of that exercise would be your own reviews (which I'd enjoy seeing). (And I will defend your right to be as critical as you like. I've had some disagreements with you but I don't remember criticising the intensity of your criticism. If I did I take it all back.) What would make a difference would be to offer an online forum for people who have only a print forum or no forum at all. And that puts you in a boat that Jide and I were in for 14 months each - getting people to submit content for free. It wasn't a side step - this, unfortunately, is the wall we walked straight into. The one thing we proved with the MAEx - not Jide's site, but the original organization that spawned it - was that the problems in the art world, at least down here, cannot be addressed by communitarian solutions. People get excited about the new effort for a while and then float away.

And I was trying to avoid saying this, but I think my involvement in your site would discourage other people from participating. As you've pointed out, my track record for creating an atmosphere of openness is, well, flawed, and I'd hate to derail things by showing up on your site and causing someone to think, "Aw, there's that twerp again. Doesn't he have his own blog already?" who might be inclined to get involved.

Anyway, Godspeed, and I'll support in any way I can. And hey, even if it just ended up you writing reviews, I would dig that.

4.

mb

April 6, 2004, 7:41 AM

Like I said, I will be writing reviews.

And, if anything, I believe in openness to a fault. (I started a project back in 1999 that used an art license based on the FSF's General Public License as a way of making art generally available on line that keeps giving me deja vu whenever I see stuff about/from the Creative Commons people.) And I also tend to think that the line between editorial control and outright censorship can be very narrow at times, so my own tendency is hands-off. (And I worked in commercial publishing before moving to Miami.)

I would welcome someone like Jack who writes comments here (that I almost never agree with) to be an author, or any of the lurkers & occasional posters. But my own feeling (fear?) is that this will not happen.

"Those who can write, write. Everybody else just talks about it."

....

"The one thing we proved with the MAEx - not Jide's site, but the original organization that spawned it - was that the problems in the art world, at least down here, cannot be addressed by communitarian solutions. People get excited about the new effort for a while and then float away."

Actually I think it was more complex, and more deeply flawed in its own ways. The MAEX always struck me (and I know a few others) as being a from-above attemplt to impose things on the art world here, specifically Steinbaum. What ever the motives were, having the juried show was a mistake; having the whole thing tied to Steinbaum was a mistake; and then the way the show itself was handled was an even bigger mistake. Once the locals who didn't getting in realized there was no chance of this changing in the future, there was little incentive for the majority of people to stay involved--after all, what were they really getting out of it? The opportunity to be lackeys for other people? The concept of the show was a good idea, but tying it to an infant organization was not. For something like the original exchange to have worked, it needed to be organized by successful, well-known established artists, not by a gallerist and group of unknowns.
An all-inclusive, open show for all the members, with membership in the group being a matter juried by the other already-existing members of the exchange (ie. peerage) might have resulted in a workable, sustainable organization. Its a matter of working from the correct foundation: mutual respect and support, not cut-throat competition over insignificant "rewards" that none of the members have any say over.
IMHO

5.

Onajide

April 6, 2004, 5:22 PM

I will write for Michael's new site as I will continue for MAEX. I still have the possibility of writing for Miami New Times, so I've recently been told. I will take advantage of all offers of publication as time presents itself for me to work on them.

As far as paying writers, under my tenure as Editor of MAEX, when it was part of the organization, only one person asked to be paid, and two people that I know of got paid for writing. I think getting paid is only part of the issue because if that were the case, more writers would step up and say they'd like to get paid for writing.

I think that of the many people I've heard discussing or dissing a show, do it without thoughtful consideration. There has to be someone around that is capable of thoughtful consideration since all the local universities have degree programs in art history. Not all studio arts have masters programs available but they certainly do have art history doctoral programs.

Art history professors, who one would expect to be capable of writing, don't write for online journals because it doesn't do anything for tenure. And also, they are not invested in the art community but in their careers.

I think it really boils down to who wants to step forward. Maybe it is just us.

6.

Franklin

April 6, 2004, 7:16 PM

Michael, I agree with you on nearly all points, but hasten to add that if it weren't for Bernice Steinbaum, the organization would never have come into existence. We'd be eating ice cream sundaes in hell before a group of "successful, well-known established artists" did anything for the common good down here. Bernice threw buckets of money and time and love into the art community and she's more disappointed than anyone that things didn't work out.

I could also see a peer-reviewed membership system turning into a nightmare of insularity. You're right - the bottom line is mutual respect and support.

Jide, that's what it always boils down to, eh? Here's to stepping forward. Off of a metaphorical cliff, if necessary.

7.

Onajide

April 6, 2004, 8:58 PM

Not to beat a dead horse but, MAEX the organization was good at saying I shouldn't do yet, they didn't provide much content for the site. That was always frustrating. That was especially true with a book review by Gean Moreno with many emails complaining it wasn't about Miami (in a direct way that could be seen and sensed in a physical way, as if ideas flow through the ether all over the planet). Anyway, I don't have such contraints any longer. I am aware that people have appreciated the changes I've made to the site and I continually get emails from all around the world. That means that I have done the correct thing by taking on the site and trying to make Miami a better place for the arts and, realize the responsibility I have in hand. It is very much an honor to me to be in this position.

8.

Jack

April 7, 2004, 6:33 AM

Michael, the bottom line is that everyone serious about art should be a critic for him/herself, even if everyone isn't willing or able to do that. I'm a critic whenever I'm faced with a piece of art. However, since I'm neither omniscient nor infallible, I realize I might benefit from outside input, assuming it's from a good source. The final judgment, though, remains strictly up to me. Bad or weak criticism is at best a waste of time, and it may be considerably worse than that, depending on how gullible or susceptible the audience. Those are the reasons I care about this issue.

This whole art criticism thread was specifically concerned with work in print by more or less professional paid critics, who are thus far the ones that reach the most people and are taken most seriously as the "official" authorities, real or presumed. I am not such a person, nor have I any official connection to the art world.

Thanks for your offer to me, but should I decide to write online reviews for public consumption, I'd prefer to do it in another forum. You're better off with someone more congenial, and so am I.

9.

Denise Delgado

April 8, 2004, 10:06 PM

Oh, no, no, no, no! my! Where does this come from? I virtually disappear from the art world for a year or so (ya know, dealing with some personal stuff...), turn my back for a second, and now I'm fundraising (one of my least favorite activities, to be perfectly honest) for the prickly thornbush that would be another Miami arts writing project?

I'm kidding. Seriously, while 1) this is very flattering, 2) it's very nice of Franklin to think I have ferocious organizational skills, and 3) I'm pretty sure I could scare up $7000 without TOO much of a problem, I can't say I would have no editorial ax to grind with such a project. While I could adopt that position for the sake of facilitating a worthy project, I definitely have my own very strong opinions on the subject. Fortunately for you all, I am just too darned nice and (unfortunately for me) lacking the time and energy to unleash the critical furor that I am capable of. I'm only half-joking on that one.

That said, I do admire Franklin's dedication to this idea--and his dedication to cultivating dialogue and activity in general--and I think it's an interesting proposition. I also like Michael's blog idea, and for the record I also would like to say that I would like to see more of that type of criticism, as opposed to straight reviews--solid writing that addresses work being done here, offers constructive critique, and grounds it in relevant theory and criticism.

My final thought is that for such a thing to work the way both Franklin and Michael are proposing, and make it more of a "neutral" ground to which folks can feel comfortable contributing their non-neutral opinions, it really does need to be established as the result of several people's collaborative effort as a stand-alone forum--i.e., not attached to any one person's already-existing blog, website, publication, enterprise, etc. The results may not always be entirely coherent, gramatically correct, or even totally readable--but I think it WILL get some more open dialogue going. I'm envisioning a critical Miami arts Wikipedia of sorts.The effort to keep it in existence would go less into editorial activity, and more into just keeping the thing functional. What do you think?


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