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Review Review: Let’s talk about bad writing.

Barbara Irwin, Ecstasy (taken from the artist's website)

that long ago, Rainey posted a Newswire item about Gallery Lombardi’s
Erotica 2008
. I haven’t seen the show and this entry isn’t really about
that. It’s about the review of that show in the Austinist
written by "SarahMarie." The last time I was so irked by their writing was
waaaaaaay back in April when the Austinist posted a review of Ballet Austin (nice Flash) and Trenton Doyle Hancock‘s Cult of Color: Call to Color. I’m waiting
for a third one to make a definitive statement about the Austinist’s
arts writing, so in the meantime, here’s a pre-thesis on the subject at
hand: as a general tendency, the Austinist has god-awful arts reviews
written by people who write like they’ve never really been forced to
think about art (or criticism) before their editor assigned them to.
Now, like any good (pre)thesis, I’ll have my exception to go along with
the rule: Brady Dyer’s posts don’t make my rageahol flare. She knows what she’s doing.

Austinist is a valuable resource. I check it almost on a daily basis. They do a fantastic job covering
music news, film stuff (for the most part) and bits and pieces of
flotsam and jetsam news. That’s their job. But in the scant years they
have been in existence, proper (or at the very least not
cringe-inducing) and consistent arts reporting has eluded them.

Let’s break down the review for Gallery Lombardi‘s Erotica 2008. The
first sentence assures us that the show "is more than a meditation on
sexuality," an affirmation that feels a little redundant given that the
entire entry is based on the assumption that it’s first and foremost an
art show. I know this sounds like petty criticism, but when a show at
Gallery Lombardi is billed as "a multidimensional sensory explosion
that challenges our relationship to sex, the body, and creativity with
fearless exploration of these themes in nearly every conceivable form"
("form of…WATER!")
you know you’re either in the presence of a great example of an adynaton
and/or a minimum number of words per entry requirement.

But the single sentence that annoys me the absolute most and makes me
see red is the opening of the second paragraph… "[h]ow’s this for
original: in Barbara Irwin’s
object art piece, “Ecstasy,” a tiny golden woman arches her back over a
bed in front of a round mirror, from the confines of a golden cage." I
don’t want to somehow imply that I have some sort of secret knowledge
of criticism or even that I’m exceptionally good at it, but as a
general rule, I try to avoid awkward half-questions that are worded so
ambiguously that it’s hard to decide if it’s meant as a back-handed
compliment, a sarcastic put-down or a sign of complete ignorance about
that which is being discussed (Also, your HTML is busted).

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19 Responses

  1. _scott

    i don’t want to sound argumentative but why not write a review of the show instead of tearing apart someone else’s? i get the distinct feeling that lomabardi isn’t too well received around here but given the hype around the opening, it seems like something at least worth covering, positively or negatively.

  2. Ivan L

    Well _scott, the short of it is that this is my blog and I can write about almost anything I feel like writing. The long of it is that i think that one of the main things that is keeping the Austin art scene from improving by leaps and bounds is a dearth of good arts writing. Obviously I’m not implying that this blog entry counts as good arts writing but it does count as a response to bad arts writing.

    I agree with you that the show is something worth covering, positively or negatively, and I certainly plan to.

    I think your comment that Lombardi isn’ t too well received around here is probably due to what I said at the end of the third paragraph but honestly, that assertion can aply toany show in Austin or almost any art show you ever see. So to clarify, that was definitely not meant as a bitchy remark about Gallery Lombardi.

  3. David O

    I’m reminded of that episode of The Simpsons where Ned Flanders tapes everything that comes on TV so he can watch it frame by frame to find all the evil parts and write letters, or in this case, a review of someone else’s review of a show, and their website shortcomings.

  4. _scott

    i agree with you that austin could use a lot more quality coverage but these days we take what we can get. someone mentioned on another blog that it’s “summer time and the living’s easy”, yet every artist i know is as busy as ever. and i don’t know any gallery owners who are taking a summer break. there were 3 openings in austin last weekend alone (angie renfro at workman, conjunctured co-op space first show, lomabrdi) and besides the austinists lomabardi review (which, btw, i agree with you on) i’ve yet to see an article about. not to mention i can’t seem to find anything about nat23 from any of the obvious outlets which to me borders on bizarre.

    talking about a dearth of “good” writing. i’m not seeing much of any writing at all. and a simple listing in the chron doesn’t count.

    to be clear, this isn’t a criticism of glasstire (i enjoy your site very much) as much as an observation regarding coverage of the austin art scene in general which, from where i’m sitting, seems to be alive and well.

  5. Ivan L

    …and let me add two more openings that happened last weekend: Justin Goldwater at Domy Books and Jesse Butcher at MASS Gallery. There’s certainly a lot going on and there have been some weird gaps in coverage lately…

  6. aarondubrow

    the Austinist has been advertising their need for fine arts writers for the last six months. No pay, but plenty of exposure. I applied myself before I found out I was going to India. Maybe you should become a contributor.

  7. Ivan L

    It’s pretty fucked up to ask for fine arts writers and not offer any pay other than “exposure.” From an entry at Gawker:

    “If you’re an employee or an independent contractor or a freelancer and some entity or website is making money off your labor, you deserve to be paid. It doesn’t matter how solvent the company is—they’re still selling ads and making revenue.
    It’s not only for your own good that you should demand to be paid, either. People working for free (or for depressed wages) drive down the pay for bloggers who do get paid for their work.

    Blogging for free, no matter what the circumstances, is not being a good, loyal employee. It isn’t a way to hang on to your job. It isn’t some sort of heroic act.

    Remember, free-bloggers: someone is making money off your work and your content. It’s just isn’t you.”


  8. assmaster

    I don’t think Lozano can take constructive criticism.

    “the short of it is that this is my blog and I can write about almost anything I feel like writing.”

    You should really consider contributing. It could do you and your writing some good.

  9. _scott

    domy makes me happy… and i did see a review of butcher’s show on the austinist. ok mountain has him listed for an upcoming show there as well.

  10. Rainey

    Friendly reminder: Glasstire pays its writers, and better money than a lot of pubs out there. We’re ALWAYS looking for good writers. Email us at info@glasstire.com with writing samples if you’re interested.

  11. David O

    I do free stuff all the time. As a matter of fact I lose money pretty much every week by cranking out an art show. None of the local galleries are crying to me about it though. And if they do I’ll tell them they best just keep on cryin.

    Blog on free bloggers! That’s the beauty of blogging, no one has pursestrings. And if you do it well enough you can probably sell some ads and get paid, all capitalistic and stuff, instead of waiting for the grant fairy to come and make you jump through some hoops. Get a job as a receptionist or something.

    And for the record; a workman is worthy of his hire. That’s why I don’t do the intern routine. And my place pays models a little more than the local going rate. But I’m not gonna yell at a model who works a free gig. Know what I mean, Vern?

  12. rachel

    Hi Ivan,

    you should come see the show in person, the virtual realm way is tooo far out. I didn’t mind where she wrote we were ‘fearless’ that’s a good word for the show. We normally do it every other year, but everyone thinks it’s an annual event, the last one we did was actually 3 years ago. It was so craptacular that people remember it like it was yesterday.

  13. rachel

    ha. good one. A couple of the erotica artists have told me about this place:
    I can’t believe it exists, this is the really scientific stuff here. ha. ha. that guy Kinsey was a real swinger.

    Ivan you should review our next show anyhoo. It’s a 4 person gem. Hector Hernandez, Enrique Martinez, Eric Uhlir and Mindy Kober. Sept. 13th “I’m watching my stories” Hector named it and I’m stoked how it’s coming together.

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