This is Seattle Arts News

Seattle is a young, mid-sized city, caught between rugged provincialism and high-tech pioneering. It is above all a pioneer town (not a mecca of media or publishing or politics or lifestyle), and it is not in spite of this, but because of this that it has long had an amazing arts community, which few would expect to find if they didn’t know it existed.

And sadly, many don’t know that it exists—even those who live in Seattle.

There have always been too few voices responding to the arts being produced here, especially since the closing of Reflex Magazine, the major visual arts publication for Seattle and the greater Northwest for many years. Without a dialog, artists feel they are putting their work into a void, and perhaps they are. Per capita, Seattle spends more on the arts than many other major cities, but if no one is discussing it, if people are only consuming it, this statistic means little but a paycheck (or rather, a monetary affirmation that is rarely enough to live on), and that is not why artists do what they do. They do it to be interpreters of culture, to express the human experience through their skill and hard work. It is very hard work, often thankless, and subject to harsh criticism from people who could just as well remain apathetic (the public at large and, yes, art critics).

A critic should neither be wholly negative nor a cheerleader. Both positions are a waste of time. Criticism should be performative. Criticism adds layers to art. It helps viewers access what seems at first obscure or even disturbing. It helps to have a command of the tools, but criticism is not meant to pick things apart and explain how a piece of art works (or doesn’t work). The best art does not tell; it shows. Propaganda tells, and we are surrounded by that. The subtlety of art is easily drowned out by this, and criticism is not there to be propaganda, but to help give room for the subtleties of the art to more clearly show themselves.

Criticism like this was necessary and has been abundant in places like New York and Los Angeles. These places were already the centers of publishing houses and mass media, which meant that there were plenty of writers to discuss art and the possibility of worldwide coverage—an enormous dialog. It is no wonder that these towns became the nuclei of the arts world in America; it is not because the work produced in these places was superior, but because these places attracted talent and kept it by providing frenzied inspiration and discussion. However, one need no longer rely on these old means of dissemination now that we have the Web at our finger tips. Furthermore, we have come to appreciate that regional cultures and regional voices are vital to a fuller experience and understanding of our world, and we should look to regional art scenes for authentic expressions of their place and time. It is ironic that to a point the arts world has been complicit in its own form of globalization by focusing for so long on conceptual, cosmopolitan works—works that often critique such globalization and cultural atrophy. Work produced in NY and LA is grand, but it is very often of NY and LA, and these aren’t the only cities in America. But it is not the fault of anyone in NY or LA that is has become this way; smaller cities are responsible for their own artistic output, and now there is no excuse for them to not share it.

Art can be dangerous, political, attractive, serene, playful, disturbing, solemn, ANYTHING, but merely labeling it as one thing or another does not deepen our understanding of it. Art can challenge tradition, but not if it is celebrating novelty for the sake of novelty. Art has a deep understanding of history, but responds most of all to the present if it is a genuine expression. Art does all this, and if the artists could be put it into words, then they would be writing instead. Similarly, if writers could paint or compose or dance, then maybe they would express themselves that way. I am a writer who loves art, and I see a need for more to be written about the arts in Seattle, so much of what I write is not just a response, but where my mind goes when I am confronted by a work that challenges me. It’s not because I think I am the highest authority or that I am always going to “get” precisely what the artist intended. I am merely responding and encouraging others to do so, whether by writing or merely by learning to let go, let their minds and hearts wander a little more when they encounter art. That’s why I’m launching Seattle Arts News; it’s a love letter to art as a whole, one to be read by others that may then fall in love with it as I have, and also to a part of the world that has become home for me and continues to amaze me with its depth and beauty. I hope that you enjoy it, too.

VNITAS EST VANITAS