By Andrew Alexander
Does arts journalism matter in Atlanta?
That question is much tougher to answer than it should be. Clearly, I think arts journalism matters (it’s my work, after all). But nothing makes you sound less important than trying to convince someone how important your job is.
A better question to get at the heart of things might be: What would our city look like if there were no arts journalism? It very nearly happened about 10 years ago as our daily newspaper cut its entire arts writing staff and the city’s alt-weeklies and other outlets floundered, shrank, slashed their arts coverage or started to go under. It was an abysmal time that understandably had the arts community very worried. Two former Atlanta Journal-Constitution staffers, Cathy Fox and Pierre Ruhe, felt arts journalism mattered enough to create the web-based platform I now work for called ArtsATL.
Fox and Ruhe recognized that a crucial means of communicating about the city’s art was in danger of being lost. But more importantly, they also held a core belief that that act of communication itself was an important part of the life of our city. Art criticism, to me and to many others, represents a singular opportunity for contemplation, evaluation, reason, reflection, communion and discourse. “Dialogue” in the media has all too often come to mean two ideological representatives from opposite ends of the political spectrum blasting it out at each other full force for 90 seconds before a commercial break. But what if our public discourse could look like something else entirely?
An intriguing new line of theoretical thinking emphasizes that “art” doesn’t so much reside in an object, but in a viewer’s response to it. Dabs of paint applied to canvas don’t alone make the Mona Lisa a work of art. Our ongoing fascination with the smile is actually an important, if not the most important, part of the picture. This seems to me a wonderful thing for someone to have thought of. Art is all too often brushed aside as somehow elitist, as inaccessible, as decorative or ancillary, as not for everyone. But art isn’t just for everyone, it’s made by everyone. We at ArtsATL have always taken this lovely, democratic notion as a given. It’s simply in our DNA because of the way we were formed. As the only comprehensive outlet devoted entirely to the arts in Atlanta, inviting audiences to engage with and think about the city’s music, theater, visual art, dance, film and literature is what we’re all about.
I hope Atlantans come to think of ArtsATL as a place to get a better picture of what their city is like, a place to engage, to contemplate, to find new things to see, hear and do. I don’t imagine I could convince anyone in doubt that what we do is important, but I know readers can gather a sense of that significance by experiencing it. Mostly, I hope ArtsATL helps Atlantans gain a feeling of community that comes through shared contemplation of its art. Arts journalism is, I believe, a long, ongoing argument against isolation, complacency, cynicism and indifference. Now more than ever, this matters.
Andrew Alexander writes and edits for Atlanta-based arts website ArtsATL.com.
Feature image above: Allan McCollum’s Twenty Plaster Surrogates (Courtesy High Museum of Art)