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write your editor

Post #302 • June 18, 2004, 3:55 PM • 10 Comments

A letter of comment appeared in this week's Street Miami written by Darby Bannard that said:

Omar Sommereyns' review of the "three painters" show at Dorsch ("Three's a Crowd," June 11) was brought to my attention because the artists -- Alex Di Pietra, Lucas R. Blanco, and George Bethea -- are, or were, my students. The most common criticism of Bethea's paintings is that they are too much like those of Matisse and the Fauvists of the early 20th century. There are, in fact, strong similarities, including Bethea's sure-handed and highly evolved use of bright, rich, eccentric color.

The criticism of Bethea's paintings by Sommereyns -- he calls them "nauseatingly imbued in radiant color," "tacky, often slapdash oil compositions" -- is strikingly similar to the criticism Matisse and the Fauves got 100 years ago. What bothers me is not that this critic can't see -- we are used to that, especially in Miami -- but that he seems ignorant of, or at best indifferent to, these obvious parallels.

Mr. Sommereyns and I have been communicating privately, and it happens that he is entirely aware of modern French painting and has seen much of it in person. He saw the parallels between Bethea's work and Fauvism, but didn't remark on them largely because of space constraints (his 300-word piece was edited down to 209) and because he felt the reference would be lost on Street's target audience, which is not an unreasonable assumption. It was remiss of me not to suggest those reasons myself in the course of standing up for him - out of my three pieces last week, I lost fifty words off of two of them, and in general I try not to refer to other artists unless nothing else will do.

The 300-word review is a new format to me; I was used to writing whatever length I wanted online and for Accent Miami, and at the Miami New Times I had up to 800 words or so. A full arts feature at Street caps at 600 words. At half that, it is nearly impossible not to sound glib, if not downright snide. 200 or 250 words, from a critical standpoint, is either haiku or a drive-by shooting, depending on your viewpoint.

It's consummately self-serving of me to suggest it, but if you'd like to see more art criticism in the papers down here, you should be writing letters like Professor Bannard's to the editors of Street, the Herald, and the New Times. Editors estimate their readership of a given topic by how much feedback they get. If they got a bag of mail or the electronic equivalent about everything they ran, they would run more. Please consider it.

Comment

1.

Darby Bannard

June 18, 2004, 11:35 PM

Franklin:
Thanks for the implicit plug. I certainly agree that stirring things up a bit may help get Miami beyond the Mickey Mouse stage.
I had some correspondence with Mr Sommeryn, who objected to my letter, of course, and explained to him that the Fauvist references were evident enough to be mentioned in even a short review, and that I was so taken with his inability to see the pictures in the Dorsch show - which was very evident, even in a short review - that I came to the conclusion that he didn't know any better. If he knows about Fauvism and other art matters, well, that's good news indeed, especially if he is going to be a regular art reviewer.

2.

Jerome du Bois

June 19, 2004, 9:31 AM

Franklin:

. . . either haiku or a drive-by shooting. . .

Good line, and I could use a good line right now.

It's sad to have to negotiate over 50, 100, or 200 words. I'm sure you could unwind 200 eloquent words on how Morandi gets the curve of a vase down, and I would read them with pleasure (yes, I would!) -- but the new piercing studio is going with a half-page ad instead of quarter-page from this issue on, so . . . bye, bye, words, bye bye intelligence. I think I'm a gonna cry.

What a day.

JdB

3.

oldpro

June 19, 2004, 5:07 PM

On the other hand, just to be contrarian, forcing oneself to get as much as possible into a couple hundred words is what poets and good journalists do. Hemingway said it was the best training a writer could have. It is not so much the length as it is one's skill at handling the length. What hurts (I'm not implying that this happens at StreetMiami) is having a bad editor. But, as Franklin says, if we fire away at these publications we can't help raising the level of public art talk in this town. We sure do need it.

4.

Jack

June 19, 2004, 8:02 PM

Local publications and the people who write about art for them should definitely get more feedback, especially when, by commission or omission, they do a poor job. There's been too much namby-pamby foolishness around here for too long, and little or no incentive to raise the standards. Maybe the power players feel the're so above it all that they can't possibly be bothered with the state of local art criticism--unless it steps on their toes. Maybe they want things to stay the way they've been, comfortably mediocre and thus easy to handle and even easier to ignore. I'm not a power player, but I am fed up, especially when insult is added to injury by the ridiculous presumption that the Miami art scene is now indisputably, certifiably top-of-the-line, major league stuff. It's not about what a few people have in their warehouses or personal museums, and it's not about Art Basel week; it's about what's happening here year-round in artists' studios, galleries, public art institutions, and the media. There is one hell of a lot of room for improvement.

Regarding your defense of the Sommereyns review, Franklin, it's most unfortunate that, knowing better, he chose to omit what was, given the nature of Bethea's work, an indispensable reference to Fauvism. How is Street's "target audience" supposed to get up to speed if everyone's afraid to disturb it with something it doesn't already know? Is that the function of a critic, to protect and perpetuate his audience's presumed ignorance? As for the admittedly problematic space limit, I think Oldpro has a point, and I notice that said limit did not preclude a cheap crack about the supposedly bad taste of Bal Harbour high-rise residents. So no, Franklin, I'm still not buying your position, though you can always try the Dalai Lama; I'm sure he's a much easier sale.

5.

oldpro

June 19, 2004, 8:49 PM

"Bye" the way, Jerome, if you are going to paraphrase the Everly brothers, get the meter right. Something like:

Bye, bye, intelligence...
Bye, bye, making sense...
I think I'm a gonna cry

6.

Franklin

June 19, 2004, 9:17 PM

I think we need at least two verses and a full chorus. Get to work, Oldpro.

7.

oldpro

June 19, 2004, 10:49 PM

With abject apologies to the Everly Brothers:

Bye bye, common sense
Bye bye, innocence
Hello, pomo events.
I think I'm a-gonna cry-y.

Bye bye, writing well.
Bye bye, old soft sell.
Hello, art from hell.
I feel like I could di-ie.

Bye bye, art, goodby-ye.
There it goes, down the tubes
To be-a taken up by clueless boobs
All I can do is Si-igh

I'm a-through with art
I'm a-through with paint
I'm through with-a keepin'
Polite restraint

And here's reason
That I'm so free:
Cuz' pomo art
Is a-through with me.

Bye bye, common sense
Bye bye, innocence
Hello, pomo events.
I think I'm a-gonna cry-y.

8.

John Link

June 20, 2004, 2:04 AM

oldpro:

Great job with the Everely Brothers. Just one nit to pick. It should be:
...
And here's THE reason
That I'm so free:
...

Now if we could get something going with the line from *Me and Bobby McGee*:

... freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose ...

9.

Jerome du Bois

June 20, 2004, 4:05 AM

I must be verrrrry careful about the comments I make on this blog. Good work, though, oldpro.

(tiptoeing away)

JdB

10.

oldpro

June 20, 2004, 5:49 AM

Thanks, guys.
Maybe "And feeling good is when the eyeless critics sing the blues"
But enough of this doggerel.

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