I like sociologist Alison Gerber’s definition of an artist. Her way of wrestling with the vocabulary of artistic practice and “field” resonates with my own attempts to wrangle the lexicon of contemporary art-making and criticism. For her short contribution to Temporary Art Review’s rolling Hand in Glove “social response,” she writes:
“When I say artists, I don’t mean you and your friends. I didn’t really know that, not in my bones, until I became a quote-unquote scientist, until I sat down for a year or two and puzzled out what, exactly, I meant when I said ‘artist’ – and, more importantly, what I wanted to mean, what world I imagined when I conjured these artists. For the past few years, I’ve defined ‘artists’ for my own purposes with a proxy for artistic practice: the exhibition of artworks in public. I’ve drawn on rosters I constructed from the kinds of places where we encounter artworks: diverse presenting institutions that include galleries and museums, to be sure, but also cafes, studio crawls, churches, city streets.”
That notion of making work to share, somehow, with others in a public sphere seems to me crucial. After all, the soul of art lives not primarily in the act of a work’s creation, but in the dynamic, conversational space where two minds meet in the experience of it. It doesn’t matter if that work is presented in a gallery or on a stage or in a derelict city lot; what matters are the stories we tell each other about what we see there, the human labor of the making and sharing of it for that purpose.
Art so made and presented for others’ consideration amounts to a kind of blind query, a call from one mind to others like it. And that call is what good arts criticism answers – it’s a completion of the work, in a sense, accepting the artist’s invitation to look, to argue, to parse meaning or mystery, to find affinity there, or not.
At Mn Artists, our mission and mandate has always focused, first, around the needs of the regional arts community and improving the lives of working Minnesota artists. And for 13 years, our organization has included among its offerings a dedicated space and budget for homegrown arts writing and critical dialogue. But local artists are hungry for more than just visibility in a digital space; they want criticism and arts journalism that goes beyond simply holding a mirror up to local arts activities. Minnesota’s artists are educated, talented, sophisticated makers looking to connect their own practices here with larger currents of cultural work and conversation. They’re eager to have eyes from outside looking at work happening locally, but also invested in looking up and out and responding to what’s going on beyond our state’s borders.
Arts publishing that is mindful of its regional roots and local relevance doesn’t preclude engagement with artists, organizations, and audiences who are like-minded but may be working elsewhere. Indeed, the local arts scene is only enlivened further by those more far-reaching connections. And thanks to stability afforded by support from the McKnight Foundation and our home within the Walker Art Center, Mn Artists’ editorial efforts can afford to take a long view, to incubate that wider-network of artists, critics, and organizations across the country over time. We also have the breathing room to build a deep archive of editorial content covering disciplines – like dance, new music and jazz, poetry, visual art, social practice – that aren’t commercially viable fodder for in-depth coverage in most for-profit publications. As communities of practice and interest coalesce in the digital landscape, strict adherence to regional geographical boundaries in our editorial coverage, as a web-based platform for artists, seems not only less desirable, but even counterproductive to serving their demonstrated interests.
And so our strategies for publishing “regional” arts writing and criticism have, over the years, broadened. In recent years, we’ve adopted a wide-angle editorial strategy that serves the regional arts community by bringing outside writers, artists, and viewpoints into the fold of our coverage. Ultimately, we’re after writing and critical response with authentic regional flavor, local relevance, and a distinctively Upper Midwestern voice, but which isn’t bound by provincialism or needlessly small spheres of coverage. To my mind, it’s a declaration that the writing and artworks made in Minnesota are clearly strong enough, broadly relevant enough to resonate with audiences both here and far beyond the region.
Read more contributions to the Hand in Glove “Social Response” on Temporary Art Review.