Guardian culture critics: ‘Art entangles itself with the raw reality of our world’

The Guardian art critic Jonathan Jones and its deputy music editor, Laura Snapes, discuss the life of reviewing in the digital age

Jonathan Jones is the Guardians art critic. Here he recalls interviewing Yoko Ono and finding the tape recorder had failed, causing a stir over the Tower of London poppies, tracing the footsteps of Caravaggio, and swimming in the Med with Tracey Emin


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    If you dont think art is as important as politics, healthcare, education or any of the other topics that newspapers cover, you have probably never got on the wrong side of the power-brokers who think it is, and that they are too.

    Being an art critic for this paper is not like being one on any other. I regularly meet my opposite numbers and they often seem to have genteel working lives that are as predictable as a Sunday afternoon in Surbiton. Writing for the Guardian has never been like that. In all the time I have been involved, it has been reinventing journalism in surprising, occasionally shocking ways that bring fresh writing challenges, from reporting and interviewing to quickfire commentary, epic special features and sometimes even straightforward reviews. From writing up an interview with Yoko Ono on a plane back from Bilbao to file the moment I landed and finding the tape recorder had failed, to causing such horror in the Conservative press with a bad review of the Tower of London poppies that David Cameron ended up being asked about it at prime ministers questions, its a full and varied working life.

    And, obviously, a very fortunate one. How do you become a professional art critic? Having known a few, Id say we all stumbled into it. The bottom line, though, is that quality newspapers publish critics. And if they didnt, there would not really be anywhere at all where regular, readable, up-to-the-minute art commentary existed. Art magazines address a specialist audience and academia has its own idiom. Still, the question at the top returns in a troubled age for newspapers, do they really need to cover art when the resources could go to politics, healthcare, education and global news?

    Jonathan
    Jonathan Jones with Tracey Emin at Tate Liverpool with the copy of the Guardian used in Emins installation My Bed.

    The answer, I think, is right there in the varied roles in which Ive written about art in the Guardian. Always, Ive found art entangling itself with the raw reality of our world. A few years ago I visited Vienna to interview Waqas Khan, an artist from Lahore whose abstract drawings I love. After chatting to him I walked to my hotel, only to find the entire old city blocked off by shield-bearing police protecting the far-right Freedom party ball from totally invisible leftwing violence. Two Europes, one of openness, the other of the rising far right, were juxtaposed and it was art that led me to the battle lines. This autumn I returned to a Vienna where the Freedom party is now in Austrias ruling coalition to see an exhibition of Pieter Bruegel the Elder.

    Art, properly seen and felt, is about truth. I love reading about good art in a newspaper because there is redemption in our ability to turn from the terror, the mayhem and also the trivia of current events to contemplate the human condition as it is portrayed by serious artists. Art not only has a place in the news, it can deepen what news is. The job of an art critic, as I see it, is to point to this art that matters that can raise us out of the banal to see everything afresh.

    My most rewarding Guardian experience was a pilgrimage in which I traced the works and wanderings of Caravaggio for a piece that filled a whole edition of G2. To put his shocking, confrontational art right at the centre of a great national newspaper for a day felt political to me a blast of truth. Another art journey I made for the paper was to Orkney, to see an exhibition by the video artist Bill Viola at the Pier Arts Centre in Stromness. Watching Violas film of a diver appearing to lose consciousness and individuality in stygian blue depths, while sitting suspended above the icy sea near the sunken battleships of Scapa Flow, reminded me that art still has the ability to touch those human depths. A different kind of immersive encounter was when I went swimming in the Mediterranean with Tracey Emin and she claimed shed lured me out there to drown me in revenge for harsh Guardian reviews.

    Ive been fascinated by the power of arts journalism ever since I first read the Guardian as a teenager. I got my dad to subscribe to it when I was studying for my A-levels in the early 1980s. Again and again I was drawn to the reviews. Why was it so interesting to read reviews by Michael Billington of plays I was unlikely to see? Not light relief. It was somehow the opposite. In among the news of the day that would be chip-paper tomorrow, you had this guy writing about the meaning of King Lear or the significance of Harold Pinter.

    Online or in print, good newspapers are a civilising force. They dont just report events, they open up a limitless cultural world and make it accessible to everyone who can read. The Guardian struck me as the most civilised of all newspapers back when I was a kid in Wrexham and I never wanted to write for any other. It still does, after two decades on the inside. And with the help of supporters I have faith it always will.

    Laura Snapes is the Guardians deputy music editor. Here, she discusses how criticism in her field has changed, the relationship between artists and their fans, and why armchair appraisal wont cut it

    When people talk about the so-called good old days of music criticism, what they usually mean is there was money to burn. That money bought sizeable pages for critics to fill and the cool-by-proxy lifestyle of fancy press trips, and enabled the excess that has, for worse, defined much of music culture. This era is mourned in some quarters, although its demise, pegged to the millennial crumbling of the music industry itself, has only ever meant good things for criticism.

    I got my first real music journalism job in 2010. I jettisoned my degree to embrace a tanking profession in the middle of the recession. Obviously, my parents were thrilled. In those first few years, I think excess extended to a few European festival jollies and a bewildering amount of free lager that kept appearing in the office. The old high-rolling ways never returned in the subsequent decade, which meant that music criticism had to get better. Without cover of an exotic setting or cartoonish protagonists, the work had to speak for itself and justify its own existence, making writers more intellectually resourceful.

    From
    From left: Laura Snapes, The 1975s Matty Healy, and French singer-songwriter Chris discuss the Brits 2019 and the #MeToo movement in music. Photograph: Beats

    As the purse strings tightened, a generation of more socially engaged writers also started coming through. They demanded more from music journalism than lazy adherence to the male-genius trope (as the assistant music editor of Gal-Dem, Natty Kasambala, said on a panel recently: We worshipped men because they could play guitar?), and the even lazier dismissals of musicians who didnt conform to the straight, white, male standard. They led bottom-up change: editors from Tavi Gevinsons teen-girl bible Rookie are now editors at Rolling Stone, and writers from the feminist blog Jezebel are now New Yorker staff writers. Their inclusive, engaged standards became, if not the norm, then culturally dominant enough that any publications that dont conform to them tend to get a pasting online, at least.

    Its as suspect to declare music criticism in rude health as it is to say its all gone to pot; you cant praise the progressive values that inform the best stuff without noting how far there is to go regarding representation and fair compensation for writers. Facebook has attacked the business models of independent publications. The clip at which music culture moves means that many outlets are more interested in cheap clicks and instant reactions than giving writers time to develop their theories into thoughtful work. And when there is little money, and the media are being sidelined by artists who want to control their own narratives, publicists also command a degree of power that in some quarters can complicate honest coverage. The relationship between artists and fans on social media has also led to a degree of fan service masquerading as music journalism.

    What might look like setbacks are opportunities for music journalism to become more essential and for writers to emphasise a push towards work that endures: through close reads and careful balances of aesthetic and political consideration; and through questioning the market and technological dynamics that govern how music is shaped and sold, and what they mean for the musicians caught among them. As Jonathan writes, the work of a critic shouldnt be armchair appraisal, but getting stuck into the fray and attempting to understand why the work were hearing is getting through the gatekeepers, whos getting to make that work, under what circumstances, and what it reflects, rejects or critiques about how we live now. Its the work music journalism should have been doing all along.

    Original Article : HERE ; This post was curated & posted using : RealSpecific

     


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