At the suggestion of a few colleagues I wrote a letter back on March 25, 2011, to the College Art Association asking to be considered for the position of editor-in-chief of Art Journal. I wouldn’t have thought of seeking the job on my own. Why I’m not sure; I spent most of the 1980s working as an editor, both for one-off publications (several exhibition catalogues and one book, a tenth-anniversary survey for the National Association of Artists’ Organizations) and for two serial magazines, the quarterly LAICA Journal (Los Angeles, 1984–86) and the monthly Artpaper (Minneapolis, 1987–91). But Art Journal I always associated with art historians, and the work I do is in art criticism. Moreover, it’s on the basis of my writing and editing criticism that I’ve been able to find employment as a teacher—but again, always in studio departments, never art history.
So this became the essence of my pitch to CAA. Having worked for thirty years (pant) in various private art schools and college studio art departments, I think I can help bolster Art Journal’s commitment to serving practicing artists and teachers of art. Art historians will still be generously featured (see, for instance, Deborah Johnson’s essay in this issue), but Art Journal has always intended its readers and contributors to stretch further, and I’m perhaps in a favorable position to respond to that diversity—as a critic I’ve had to learn how, as the magazine’s mission statement puts it, “to operate in the spaces between commercial publishing, academic presses, and artist presses.” In truth, devoting more pages to contemporary art beyond its historicization merely continues the tendency already established by my predecessor, Katy Siegel, whose many successes over the last three years in this chair I’d love to plagiarize in whatever ways I can.
Still, despite all this allegiance-pledging to art and artists, I’m pretty sure that what clinched the deal with CAA was my having, indeed, an art history PhD (received only in my late forties, some twenty years after my BFA). Nevertheless I consider my appointment a victory. Who knows, maybe the next editor will be an actual practicing artist, brandishing only an MFA.
At any rate, having now taken up the baton, what topics have I chosen to address in this, my inaugural issue? Nothing, actually. Or, rather, nothing as it challenges our culture’s bias toward seriousness and eventfulness. That, as Beth Capper argues in her essay, was what the artist Shirley Clarke struck out to accomplish in her collaborative video work of the late 1960s and 1970s. Moyra Davey begins her artist’s project by considering blankness, Catherine Fowler looks hard at motion pictures that seem motionlessness, and Michael Jay McClure explores the vacancy overrunning recent installation work. Could quiet be the new resistance? (The Wall Street Journal recently reported that “the ‘new’ library prefers buzz over the code of silence.” The NSA is no doubt pleased.) I can only say this for sure. I’m not above playing favorites. The very first essay, by Peggy Wang, is about art critics.
This article originally appeared in the Spring 2013 issue of Art Journal.