Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Eve Criticism & Cash Flows

For some time now I've been wanting to blog about art writing and criticism. My general philosophy of criticism can be summarized as follows:

Artmaking can be an amazing, healing process for virtually anyone to participate in. It's really important and I would recommend it to anyone. In fact, I think there should be more people doing it--engaging in creative work--for the rewards and insights it provides to the maker.

But does that mean I should recommend that other people should spend time viewing someone's creative product? Does that mean your creative product has useful meanings to others outside yourself? Not necessarily.

So.... do I think criticism is necessary to societal functioning? No, not really. The main reason I might have upset about shrinking column-inches or hours-paid for art writing is that it's a big part of how I make a living. Just as auto industry workers are shook up about the Big Three, I get shook up about the increasing tenuousness of text-based media outlets: print is losing to the web, and the web hasn't figured out how to make comparable money on text content yet.

How will art writing be funded into the future? I ask this out of self-interest and out of general curiosity. 

In this vein, I thought the following links might be interesting:
To me, it's clear from all this that online venues need to figure out revenue big time. Could it be that the future would be dominated by outlets like, which is essentially an advertising site that added a blog later in its development? Or will it depend on people working largely for free or on honorarium, a tack that has served a lot of community outlets (like well but does not provide the resources for in-depth reportage?

Another thing the industry needs to figure out is what's okay and not on the web. Aggregation of content from diverse streams IS a strength that the web offers, and it's a service many readers are looking for. But there needs to be a sense of fair use, just as there is for fair use in print reproduction. Clearly, based on GateHouse's lawsuit and the HuffPo backlash, this fair use judgment is not yet in large professional play.

On another layoffs tack, I have to say a freelance-dominated media workforce, while good news for freelancers like me, is not necessarily good for news coverage in general. In order to really deliver important, under-wraps information to readers on any topic, there has to be retained reporters who have time to milk sources, learn their field, sift through press releases, and receive regular column-inches from their editors. 

So as the dark of Christmas Eve draws near, I say: Santa, please bring us in the media industry more insights into how we can keep telling important stories to the broader public. I know it's a tall order, but... we've run a hella lotta stories on you this month, so you owe us one.


Anonymous said...

I do think criticism is necessary to societal functioning. With all the noise out there, I need someone to act as a filter for me. Criticism helps keep standards of quality high and guards against abuses of position.

Leah Sandals said...

Hi James,

Thanks for your comment. Probably in my post there was a sense of my own depressed point of view affecting my judgment.

To this end, I'm intrigued that you think criticism is necessary to social functioning. I'm not quite sure of that--but I do think having people (journalists, bloggers, critics, whatever) to generally deliver important stories and hold institutions to account IS really important. So if that counts as criticism, I can definitely get behind it.

For my part, I of course enjoy reading criticism as well, and have for many years prior to taking up writing professionally. Being someone who loves words, it delights me to experience a skilful writer's turns of phrase and nuances of expression. I also tend to enjoy criticism most when I've actually experienced the movie/book/website/restaurant/art being reviewed; to me, it is more like a conversation that way, a point for further thought.

The filter thing is useful too, you're right. It's not a matter of survival, which is why I downgrade it, but it is valuable that way.

If you have any further elaborations on this I'd love to read them.