To begin with, let me state the agenda of this author. It is
my assumption through observation, correct or incorrect, that
regional newspapers, magazines, television and radio (including
pubic radio) place little to no emphasis on the visual arts. There
is obviously much more space given to the performing arts, books/authors,
as seen in weekly columns and media interviews. And we need not
mention the coverage of sports…an entertainment Goliath.
The visual arts lag way behind to the point where they are often
invisible. This is not new though the conditions may have deteriorated
over the first years of the 21st Century.
There from arises my simple agenda. We need to encourage everyone,
including you the reader, to emphasize to all persons you know
that the visual arts of our state need and deserve to be covered
more…and in greater depth. Of course, this means especially
those involved in publication. Yes! Easier said than done.
It is not my wish in this article to point out any particular
media operations or personalities for criticism, for lack of interest,
foresight, understanding, empathy and sympathy. I’ll not
name names here, though that is tempting to do. Instead, let me
speak in broader terms about the general reporting media, which
seem to have common reasons for reporting or failing to report.
Even if arts writers exist and desire to write about the visual
arts, demands mean that print space and TV/radio time are limited.
These arts writers need to show their superiors, those who
limit what they can do, that there is an eager broad audience
for this subject.
Let me raise these questions for your consideration and discussion:
Those are some topics that have emerged and been discussed within
the artist communities around us. There are certainly more, some
over-talked, some obvious, some subtle.
YOU, THE ARTIST, THE CONSUMER, THE BUSINESS PERSON, THE READER
AND WATCHER, THE TEACHER AND PARENT
Emphasizing the need and benefits of reporting on the visual
arts to the “right people” can assist in raising the
awareness of the visual arts. Do you doubt this? Consider this
recommendation from Aristotle Onassis, someone who is still known
by reputation to many people. If you don’t know, he was
the multimillionaire Greek shipping magnate who married Jackie
Kennedy. One of his statements of advice was “Cultivate
the friendship of the rich and influential.”
Who are the influential in the various media? Those would be
the decision makers and those that influence them such as consumers,
advertisers, politicians and the wealthy of a community. Decisions
may not be made by the visible reporters who sometimes have to
bow to the wishes of their superiors.
These people need to be convinced of, and educated about, the
wealth and role of painting, drawing, sculpture, ceramics, printmaking,
traditional crafts…and the healthy expression in visual
mediums for all of us…especially for the children who are
naturally inclined to the arts, who are not destined to be athletes
or rock stars.
There are many stakeholders tied to some aspect
of the visual arts. We have the obvious and visible galleries,
artists, art departments of schools and colleges, museums and
art fairs. There are all the businesses operating which are dependant
upon the arts culture and an economy that benefits from arts activities.
Stakeholders include those involved with framing and print shops
to companies manufacturing and selling art supplies. Citizens,
businesses and politicians all gain by having a healthy arts culture
to engage the public and to attract tourists and new settlers
to a community.
And importantly, there are the children who mature with or without
a curriculum that offers meaningful art classes. The kids gain
not only enrichment and better understanding of art making processes,
but find visual languages to help express and expand on ideas
and which can help them thru life. Many of these kids can become
engaged in art as an athlete becomes engaged in a sport. Art and
art making becomes an integral part of their personas and futures
in numerous beneficial ways, providing outlets for expression
and pride of accomplishment. They become the arts supporters and
ARE YOU WITHOUT POWER?
What can you do if you believe that there should be more reporting
about the visual arts in our communities? The simplest most
direct way is to contact the editors and decision makers at publications
and other media. Have your friends and members of arts organizations
“politely” make contacts with those that influence
the selection of topics in the media. And this should not merely
be a one time attempt, rather it should be an ongoing discussion
spread across months and years.
Don’t forget the power of the pocketbook. How about speaking
to those art related businesses that buy advertising space and
time suggesting that they should speak to media representatives
about the need to expand visual arts coverage. Do you have any
associations or contacts with the “rich and influential”,
and/or are you among that class?
Be polite! Be proactive! Suggest stories…and not only those
that are personal and self serving, but those that involve the
larger community of artists. The visual arts is an area in which
it is truly possible that “A rising tide lifts all ships”.
Every newspaper should have a weekly column that compiles art
related activities for the public to read. Too often the performing
and entertainment opportunities are mentioned in such listings,
but visual arts activities are overlooked.
Somehow combining forces and activities with other arts can help
gain attention. Are there ways to join with performing artists
and their groups to help each other? Are there lines of communication
that we can open between various art organizations that can help
gain visibility for the visual arts? The visual arts should not
be “tribal” and jealous, when a unified front can
better suggest strength and importance.
It is likely that there are at least some art interested persons
on the staff of all media operations, and these persons must be
supported in their attempts to speak about the visual arts. If
there are no such champions there then someone else needs to be
sensitized to the quality and breadth of our current and even
historic visual arts.
The history of art in our state is an angle that can help attract
persons to contemporary visual arts, instill some pride about
our arts culture, and generally help raise awareness in the public
mind. Recently an organization formed that offers access to some
of the more important artists from our state. Visit the website
of the Wisconsin Visual Art Lifetime Achievement Awards at wvalaa.com,
and direct teachers and young artists to it as well.
Stakeholders in the visual arts must be proactive, and must convince
the decision makers of the importance of visual art expression
in our lives. That is not done by artists hiding in their studios
waiting for someone else to do the work, to write a letter or
email, to speak to the point whenever possible. It is accomplished
by many acting toward the same goals and making those known
to many others.
WE ARE THE PEOPLE WE HAVE BEEN WAITING FOR. If not you and me…then
Here is a pertinent quote from an old book, “How to Make
a Living as a Painter”, by Kenneth Harris, speaking about
the newspaper editor and/or reporter:
“Whenever the readers of his paper become as interested
in reading art news as they are in accidents, or sports, you will
find that every paper will have a two or three page art section,
every day…What goes into a newspaper is dictated by public
interest, reduced to the lowest common denominator; not by reporters.”
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