Last Thursday, October 16, the Fred Jones Jr Museum of Art in Norman hosted a lecture by Dr. Richard Vine, Managing Editor of Art in America Magazine. OVAC partnered with OU to bring Dr. Vine to Oklahoma as a kick-off to the Arts Writing & Curatorial Institute that we are planning for next year. As an experienced editor and writer in the art world, Dr. Vine shared some insights into his view of art criticism. Here are a few notes from his lecture.
Dr. Vine defined “Practical Criticism” as understanding what the artist was attempting to do and conveying it to the broader public.
As a basic guide, he also has developed what he calls his "Five Commandments of Art Criticism."
1. When in doubt, go. (See a lot of art.)
2. Be modest.
3. Be honest. (Try to honestly understand the artist on their own terms.)
4. Be clear. (If someone needs to read the sentence twice to understand it, you screwed up.)
5. Be funny sometimes. (But be smart first. Being funny keeps the readers awake.)
Dr. Vine also cited some interesting statistics in his talk, pointing out the relative smallness of the art world. When the circulation of a magazine like Art in America is compared with that of magazines like Rolling Stone or Better Homes & Gardens, the art universe is clearly smaller than we sometimes like to think.
He recently calculated the approximate number of art exhibitions that happen across the country each year (he figured around 26,000). He also looked at the number of slots that are available for reviews in Art in America per year - only 450. This small amount of space plays a role in determining what gets reviewed and printed. Some people question the reasons why the number of negative reviews seems to be diminishing in art publications. With such a limited amount of space, Dr. Vine pointed out that publishing negative reviews seems to be wasted space when you could focus on the exhibits and artists that the critics feel deserve positive reviews.
Dr. Vine concluded with the question of why do it? Why would someone choose to be an art critic? His answer: the love of art, a desire to see merit recognized and the search for "the good life."
It was an honor to have Dr. Vine in Oklahoma and to hear his perspective.