This wasn’t supposed to happen. Arts journalism is supposed to be going down the tubes. But here in New York, two arts sections are being expanded, with professional writers, editors, and, for now, what counts for acres of newsprint space these days.
Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal is making culture a frontline in its impending war against the New York Times, with the addition of arts reporters in its soon-to-be launched local section. And last week, The New York Observer, the scrappy pink rag read by culture and media mavens around town, announced a major expansion of its arts coverage, starting March 31, under former Wall Street Journal culture editor and AWS-friend Alexandra Peers.
What can this mean for the visual arts? We may get some behind-the-scenes reporting on the art business, as the Observer has reliably done on the media and film businesses. Peers, a 22-year veteran of arts journalism, summarizes her aspirations for the section this way: “As entertainment, pop culture and TV coverage mushroomed in the past few years, fine arts got a little lost in the shuffle. The same culture sections that are recapping “Lost” don’t want copy on Marina Abramovic; it just doesn’t jive. At the same time, people are choking the aisles at the Armory fair and lining up round the block to see Gogo’s Picasso show. The fine arts needed more of a place of their own.”
Peers believes the Observer can use the new space to go beyond the usual suspects. “You would think the art world was just Gagosian, Richard Feigen and Philippe de Montebello having espresso at Sant Ambroeus. Which of course it is, but I hope to pull in a few more of the players: curators, photo gallerists, museum trustees, bloggers, the foundations. The art world’s power base is broader – and more interesting – than most general readers know.”
Amen. It bears noting, however, that these experiments will need to be backed up by advertising sales and buzz. Meanwhile, the carnage in the culture-news business continues unabated. If you read the terrific recently re-launched arts journalism blog, ARTicles, you know that the industry-wide defenestration of arts writers is now reaching the point where there are no more staffers to fire. Arts blogs remain a labor of love, a journalistic sideline, financially unsustainable. And the sort of name dropping and name calling that has made Facebook an art-talk venue lately is hardly a substitute for serious journalism.
Clearly, though, there is a hunger for reliable writing on the arts, and the recent developments offer a sliver of hope. When newspapers finally realize they’ve completely lost their breaking-news franchise to electronic media, will they rekindle their friendship with art?