Art Writing: Jessica Baran
No.: Futures 003
Topic: Art Writing
Prompt: Describe a possible future for art writing. Specifically, submit an idea that addresses either the economics of art writing or new models/new media for art publishing that could change the field. This could be a new idea or a recent project that deserves attention.
Attempt: Had I been asked to describe a possible future for art criticism three years ago, or two years ago, or even one – each of my answers would have differed radically. Imagining this weird craft’s future has been a semi-obsession of mine, involving innumerable re-writes. At various moments, I’ve hoped for progress of these kinds: that I’d simply have the opportunity to do it; that implementing educational strategies through free public workshops and college-level seminars (including one in a Missouri prison) would inspire others to produce more art criticism or at least advocate for it; that co-organizing free public roundtable discussions and/or lectures on the subject would do something similar; that alternative strategies involving poetry, performance, or the vast cyber-ether might open the field; that the sheer and absolute lack of criticism might call people to arms; and that a dogged personal practice based in small to large-scale publications might remind others of art and art writing’s everyday necessity. I have also pursued competitive grant funding and direct queries to editors for more sustainable compensation for a regular art critical practice. My report: no dice.
So, I’ve stopped trying. This winter, after having taken a significant hiatus from art writing, I got depressed. In my little misery, I groped for the feeling’s cause – the least likely of which (but possibly most absurd) being art-writing-withdrawal. Then, suddenly, an art writing opportunity emerged. I wrote a pitch, the pitch was green-lighted, I dug into coverage, agonized over the writing, and, when it was done, enjoyed the satisfaction of the piece’s completion and the bits of dialogue it provoked. The whole exhilarating and terrible cycle, again – for a lousy 40 bucks! It felt great. This may not be a wish for the future, but it is a wish for the here-and-now: keep chasing that. I now know I can convince no one of art writing’s necessity – no more than I can convince anyone that poetry or any of my other obscure cultural crusades are more meaningful than, say, Olympic curling. But I can determine what’s meaningful to me. A cheap and lonely business, for sure – but, at least, consistently cheap and lonely.
Author: Jessica Baran, poet, art critic and Director of fort gondo compound for the arts in St. Louis whose poetry and art criticism has appeared in Artforum.com, Art in America, BOMB Magazine, Art Papers, Secret Behavior, POOL, and Harp & Altar, among other journals.
Futures is a new series that presents speculations about emerging models, responses to ongoing crises and a catalogue of possible futures. Responding to the etymology of “essay” as an “attempt,” this micro essay format invites diverse voices to address pressing issues in the arts.