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ART TIMES July/August 2006

IT IS DIFFICULT not to lose heart in this business. My desk is daily inundated with press releases, exhibition invitations, letters from artists, art books and videos — a steady deluge of written and visual material, assuring me that, were I only to take the time to peruse them, would surely arouse my interest. It has gotten to the point where I no longer take the time to pore over each letter, each invitation, each art book.  Thankfully, there are a few artists who have an inkling of what my workload might be, and send only an illustrated postcard announcing their exhibition with a short note inviting me to attend — aware of the fact that, at bottom, it is the art that has to ďspeakĒ to me and, chances are, that Iíve been at this long enough to be able to make a judgment on my own. I fully understand the artistís plight, and that without publicity the path is long, hard, and nearly impassable. But it would be nice if they also were sympathetic to my plight: I am one person, we cover a very wide geographical area (our paper is distributed across the U.S. and abroad), and we only publish ten issues per year. The work of how many artists, then, can I possibly come to see and write about? Who ďgets the inkĒ falls on my discretion and, as anyone who has read ART TIMES over the past twenty-odd years clearly knows, I do tend to carefully pick and choose, sometimes waiting years and several viewings before I write on any given artist. Truth be told, I do not find a great deal to write about. Oh, sure — thereís ore out there, but buried under so many layers of dross that I grow weary of having to dig so strenuously for the real stuff. I have my own critical compass and, for better or worse, itís what I depend on to make my decisions. What I donít need is that ton of written material trying to convince me that this is the ďreal thingĒ. Iíve said it before and shall continue to reiterate for as long as Iím editor and critic of this paper: art must speak for itself. No amount of written persuasion or verbal harangue can move me. Given enough money, any hack artist can hook up with some hack writer who is willing to wax eloquently with glissades of non-substantive, adjective-laden hoo-hah that signifies absolutely nothing. How can anyone with half a brain take such verbal flights of fancy seriously when it purports to justify and elucidate what your eyes can plainly see is a piece of crumpled sheet-metal — or a canvas indifferently besmeared with colored paint — or two boxed or flanged steel beams painted in day-glo leaning against one another — or a pile of debris dumped on a gallery floor? If there is any ďartĒ going on here, it is surely in the fancy verbal footwork being executed by the writer-for-hire who, if ever out of a job, could surely become a speechwriter for our next political leader. Hype, after all, is hype. And I come across this barrage of gobbledygook nearly every time I open my mail or stop in a gallery to see whatís what. Iíve been buttonholed by so many gallery owners/sitters eager to tell me what Iím looking at that Iím beginning to dread stepping inside to take a look. PLEASE — I want to scream at the top of my lungs — JUST LEMME LOOK AT THE WORK! So enamored has the world of art-marketing become in turning out rampant persiflage that these hucksters even lean on the poor artists to contribute to the nonsense, requiring a written ďartistís statementĒ to hang on the wall alongside the ďartistís statementĒ already framed and ready for viewing. Artist Rick Pantell once said to me, ďIf they invite a poet, do they ask him to paint a picture?Ē Right on, Rick! Meanwhile, I slog on, unearthing a few artists here and there actually intent on perfecting their skills, doing the best they can to create an honest-to-goodness work of art. Yes, they do exist — usually outside the limelight and hoopla of commodity-based markets — but oh lordy, at the age of seventy-three Iím beginning to show serious signs of wear and tear!

Raymond J. Steiner

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