Monday, March 14, 2005

Moral Soup

Kriston over at grammar.police is stirring the moral soup pot again with a posting where he expresses uneasiness about my contributions to DCist.

Kriston feels that "you really can't don the critic's cap when you're a producer in the community." In other words, that because I am the co-owner of two galleries in the Greater Washington area, I shouldn't write art criticism (other than in my own DC Art News).

Because I have been writing about art for nearly three decades now (and specifically about the Washington, DC area since I moved here in 1993), when we opened the first Fraser Gallery in Georgetown in 1996, and because of the huge void that existed in visual arts coverage (and it's worse now), I felt that I could and should continue to write about Washington area art and artists. I thought and still think that this can be done without it being a conflict of interest with my co-ownership of the galleries.

I feel that the best thing for art galleries is more art galleries; the best thing for artists' success is more artists being successful, and in order for that to happen, there has to be writing about what our artists and our galleries are doing. And thus I continued to write in as many as 20 different magazines and newspapers, and talk on the radio, and now on TV, about our area's galleries and artists.

And everyone of those editors knows who I am and what I co-own, and no issue was ever raised before. And judging by the monumental number of emails that I get from fellow gallerists, artists and other media, no one has so far seen this as an issue before.

But it has been raised now, and I respect Kriston's opinion, which has now been echoed and endorsed in the comments to the posting by Tyler Green, who adds that "sites/publications that publish criticism/show promotion by gallerists have a serious integrity problem."

So a stone has been cast by Green, and now suddenly there is a "serious integrity problem" as an added spice in Kriston's moral soup.

When DCist and I first started discussing how we could work together to raise awareness of the visual arts scene in our area through such regular postings as the Tuesday Arts Agenda, the issue of my co-ownership of the galleries was immediately raised and discussed, and we all felt that by being completely open with a full disclosure at the masthead of any postings that included my contributions, everything would be clear and above reproach.

Apparently not, for Kriston writes "It's bitchy of me to say—and I don't know the extent to which Lenny Campello of DC Art News contributes or what Cyndi Spain has to say on the subject—but I twitch whenever I see a feature with Lenny's name attached on DCist about work on display at the gallery he operates."

I think that in editing the Tuesday Arts Agenda, the editors at DCist obviously realized that if you mention the second Friday gallery openings in Bethesda, it would be unfair to their readers to always exclude any mention at all of Fraser Gallery.

It bothers me that a question about the integrity of DCist (and by inference, every magazine, newspaper and site that has published or echoed my writing since 1996) has been raised because of me, but especially gnawing since DCist's editors were so adamant and careful to take specific steps to avoid it, and as a result of these comments I will cease to contribute directly to DCist.

DCist is a powerful and strong new voice in our area, and I sincerely believe that they are reaching the kind of public that our ignored visual arts community truly needs to reach.

Now, there's no excuse for their integrity to be questioned.

But... about "art producers as art critics," as I noted in the comments to Kriston's posting:

"And it was and is quite clear to me that what Kriston meant to say, and what Green now re-affirms, is that gallery-owners should not write criticism or about art, because any publication that would then publish that writing would have a have a serious integrity problem.

Sort of like a guy who owns a bookstore, or an editor in a publishing house, or a literary agent reviewing books.

I guess we could also extend this so that people who create art shouldn't also write art criticism? After all, they're often connected to a gallery, and it would appear a tenuous link in logic implies that the same integrity issues could be raised.
In any event, DCist is looking for new voices to help them augment the coverage of our area's visual arts. Contact Mike Grass if you are interested; I really hope some of you are motivated and start contributing to DCist and help to create an important digital footprint about our artists, our galleries and our art scene.