Irresponsible Arts Journalism
On July 2nd of this year Edward Goldman wrote a post on the KCRW arts blog. Practically everything Mr. Goldman says therein offends me. For those of you outside of LA, Mr. Goldman is an erstwhile arts reporter and commentator who has a brief radio commentary segment called ArtTalk on KCRW one of Los Angeles’ primary national Public Radio stations.
Now I have to admit that Arts Journalism is a funny thing indeed. Opinions proliferate like summer kudzu growing in Alabama. And everyone with a penchant for soapbox articulation has a platform on the Internet to broadcast. Myself included. But when opinions become whines I get steamed. When those whines are based on fallacies and intellectual laziness, my temperature rises even further. Lastly when these opinions/whines/fallacies have a particularly pristine pedestal in the form of an NPR radio station, I can do nothing but rise to the occasion and volley an impassioned rejoinder.
While I encourage each of you to read his original blog, I’ll briefly paraphrase his primary points and address not only their flaws but, in the course of what follows, I wish to offer a more optimistic and proactive stance on some of the topics discussed.
Goldman’s three primary points are as follows: 1.) Retroactively Goldman complains about the lack of arts coverage by the New York Times. He begrudgingly admits the coverage has improved thus cementing Los Angeles’ importance in the International Fine Arts landscape. 2.) Goldman goes on to complain about the accessibility (hours of operation) of two of LA’s primary Art Museums, LACMA and MOCA. This complaint is framed against the news that the Metropolitan in NYC has recently announced that it will be open seven days a week. And 3.) Goldman lastly gripes about admission prices of LACMA comparing it to the free admission of London’s Tate Museum.
1.) Goldman’s inferiority complex.
Why in the world would anyone give the NYT the power to assess any city’s cultural significance? If, indeed, the Times has been paying attention to LA’s fine art landscape, it’s been doing so under the guise of playing catch up. To care as much as Goldman obviously does, speaks to an inferiority complex. LA’s gallery system is different. Better in some respects, anemic in others but different at its core. Artists in LA are less beholden to the pompous preening of the east coast. Thank god! And the museums in the vast landscape of greater Los Angeles are pound for pound better than NY. The quality and quantity of visual art offerings in this city is an embarrassment of riches. I make it my business to experience art first hand and month after month I painfully admit that I miss more than I get to see, and I see a lot of art.
Mr. Goldman, if you want to be a champion of Los Angeles’ cultural significance, don’t use the New York Times as your aesthetic barometer.
2.) Goldman as petulant crybaby.
To admit envy at other city’s museums being open seven days a week is beyond me. The museums Goldman cites, NYC’s Metropolitan and Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum and Stedelijk are major institutions, each of which is a significant tourist destination. Yes, culture is a business! Goldman fails to mention that NYC’s MOMA also recently went seven days a week. These changes are in response to demand. It made financial sense for these museums to go seven days a week because they were loosing potential revenue otherwise. The hours of Los Angeles institutions are a reflection of our demand which is increasing but which simply can’t be compared with cities of cultural longevity. And lest we forget, LA’s culture was born in the film industry. When my European friends visit me here in LA, they have a different tourist hierarchy which includes Universal city walk, Hollywood Boulevard and the shops of Rodeo Drive and, if I can corral them, a cocktail at either Dan Tana’s or Musso and Franks. Goldman’s use of the term generosity also galls me because it infers through his criticism that our bastions of culture are somehow stingy! The surge of quality in exhibitions here in LA in the last six years is the very definition of generosity. They are all nurturing a sophistication and erudition for this city, which will leave a legacy for decades to come.
Mr. Goldman, please remember context when blithely criticizing major arts organizations in Los Angeles.
3.) Lastly, Goldman as economic neophyte.
To complain about admission prices is the worst form of cultural entitlement. And to compare America with European institutions is naive and unbelievably short sighted. Culture is valued in Europe. It is the fiber of every European’s identity. They promote their historical culture with equal passion as promoting their contemporary makers of culture, whether it’s art, theater, music or dance. Conversely their governments fund culture. Lets crunch a few numbers for a moment. England’s first up. The combined national and regional funding for the arts equals approximately 3.2 billion English pounds per year. For a country with a population of roughly 49 million people that works out to be about 66 British Pounds Sterling per capita expenditure for the arts. The Netherlands clocks in with 1.9 billion euros for arts spending for a population of 16 million or 122 euros of arts budget for every Dutch citizen. Germany out does the rest with a combined federal and regional expenditure of 10.8 billion euros for a population of 82 million Germans. Germany’s per capita arts funding hits the mark at 131 euros for each and every German soul. And now for the sad numbers: America’s numbers are bleak indeed. Combined federal and state expenditures on the arts are roughly 466 million for a country that, by the latest census numbers, comes in at around 293 million “folks.” Yes, Mr. Goldman, that’s about a buck and a half per person. $1.59 to be exact for every American!
So what this means is that the British government is spending 63 times what Washington DC deems necessary on the arts. The Netherlands 101 times and Germany 108 times what the folks who allocate our taxes think is acceptable for the cultural well being of a nation. (These numbers were researched over the last couple of weeks. The statistics sited are mostly from 2005-7. An excellent example of the concrete numbers can be found in a report from the Canadian Government.)
So you see, by comparing American cultural institutions with those across the pond, Goldman isn’t really comparing apples and oranges, he’s comparing apples and herring. They are different food groups all together. Considering these aforementioned numbers, institutions like LACMA seem damn near heroic in their efforts at not merely maintaining but growing the cultural health of our fair city.
If Mr. Goldman has earned or stolen a level of fandom or influence in the art world here in LA is anybody’s guess. With a readership and listeners who take his interpretations and opinions to heart, he has a bully pulpit. The whining that he exercises, not only in this but countless other posts, is made even more egregious because he has that megaphone. Every writer and critic has the perfect right to excoriate or champion an exhibition or even one piece or artist in particular. But this crybaby attitude towards the cornerstones of fine art based on the number of hours they are open or the price of admission is irresponsible. Did it ever occur to him that advocating for everyone who listens to his broadcast should immediately join as a member of LACMA? What if even ten percent of his listeners actually all converged on MOCA one weekend and ponied up the price of admission.
My take is this: LACMA is doing a spectacular job of creating exhibitions that are educationally erudite and entertaining. MOCA has its challenges but has a collection to beat the band and the people of LA need to take ownership of the institution by using it. The Hammer, Norton Simon and Fowler churn out brilliant exhibitions that challenge preconceptions and cement the significance of Fine Art in everyone’s life. The Getty is the most generous of the bunch doling out money to the arts in the name of culture and the intellectual well being of not only Los Angeles county but California and America as a whole. If Katsuya restaurant, a swank sushi place, here in Brentwood can charge $10 for a valet to park your car less than 35 yards away then really the $15 parking fee is a mild price to pay for the architectural and aesthetic wonders of the Getty.
Mr. Goldman, stop your whining. Look at the art and make whatever judgment you will. Pony up memberships to the institutions that you frequent and where you can “afford” to see exhibitions multiple times because of your press pass. You can take it off your taxes and the institutions need your concrete support. Lead by example.
Readers and listeners, beware of the viral effects of whining in any form and think before you blithely agree with accented self-proclaimed experts. Support the institutions with your attendance, your curiosity, your membership and your words of appreciation. These are your institutions, treat them well.
-Mario M. Muller, Los Angeles, October 4th, 2013