Editors are a blessing and a curse. They are like the teachers who told us the things we really didn’t want to hear, the ones who said edit, or reshoot, or who asked, why those images? Like teachers, editors promote their own perspective, one that is dependent on what they want their publication to be, or what they want it to sound like. Noah, the editor of Whitehot Magazine, is a self-declared “voiceless” editor. He didn’t design Whitehot to represent a particular point of view, but based it instead on a simple mission: he wanted to create a place where the voiceless could congregate and write about art. He wanted good writing from artists, art historians, and art critics without having to tell them what to write about or how. I never think about who the Whitehot reader is when I write for the magazine, which probably makes it my most selfish, self-indulgent, and satisfying place to write. Nancy, editing for the Times Quotidian, comes from another perspective entirely, where the voice of TQ is dominated by her voice. She has a good sense of order and concise writing, and gives in completely to her own perspective, tastes, and interests. She reminds me of the weaving teacher I had in undergrad who proudly admitted that she had no interest in books, music, or movies. Nancy is good for me the way all vested professors are. For example, my department chair in grad school, having a vested interest in my success, gave me the type of feedback I needed to be “successful.” Nancy is the practical voice that stresses coherence, and the limiting voice that says, I doubt you really need to write about that like this.
Hrag, editor of Hyperallergic, is the best combination of my other two editors. He extends more freedom to his staff, but insists that the freedom be used to benefit of the “Hyperallergic reader.” Artists, I believe, tend to think about an audience in an abstract way, imagining the kind of viewers we want, rather than the ones who might actually exist: we dream of someone who spends as much time, and shows as much interest in our work as we do. It is a fanciful rather than real audience. I remember Gregory Volk insisting once, much to my dismay, that artists should “forget about the audience,” in a similar way that Peter Schjeldahl tells us to stop trying to write about our art (that’s his job) while condemning artist statements. Writing with a reader in mind, a specific reader of specific content, is very different from making art for a fictitious viewer. In a recent lecture I attended by the photographer Tod Papageorge, currently promoting his new book, Core Curriculum: Writings on Photography, he talked a lot about how hard writing is, and how much he doesn’t like to do it. Needless to say I can certainly understand his love/hate relationship with the medium of words.
My latest review of a local zine called Birdsong, was published by my editor with the title, Too Many MFA’s Spoil the Zine. Though I didn’t actually say it, I did hint at it, or at least at the irony of DIY youths with prestigious and expensive educations. MFA’s, after their consistent rise in numbers since the 1980s, seem to be going rapidly, or temporarily, out of favor, which is worth noting and perhaps combating. After making them necessary for all artists have, those same institutions and the people who support them, are now decrying what they have done to artists and art. Did it really take us this long to realize that the homogenization of artists within institutions might not lend itself to a movement of great creative activity? Jerry Saltz, in a recent essay titled Generation Blank, criticizes my generation of artists for being hopelessly derivative. The tagline of his essay,
the beautiful, cerebral, ultimately content-free creations of art’s well-schooled young lions,
blames us for somehow failing to break through the prison-like barriers of the art world we have come of age within. It’s certainly easy to criticize my generation, I’ll give him that, as all of us who have been through BFA and MFA programs know too well the problems inherent within them, as well as the type of artists they tend to produce—we do spend a great deal of time talking about nothing. It does seem a bit like the pot calling the kettle black, however, me with my fancy degrees poking fun at the Birdsong zine, or Saltz, with his voice of established authority helping to confine the voices of the artists he is criticising. In an interesting rebuttal to Saltz, the writer Kyle Chayka suggests that perhaps he ought to look beyond the establishment, saying that,
if you’re thinking that all is a little too smooth and easy in this young art world, it would behoove you to dig a little deeper for the movers and shakers.