Until this year, it never occurred to me that, as a journalist who writes about art, I should also be a journalist who never ever collects art. The opinions about the rights and/or wrongs seem to whirl around the possibility that some art critics expect to be gifted with art from the persons they have reviewed, or are about to review. I found this in an article (Critical Mess) written for a Seattle newspaper, The Stranger:
“As a journalist who critiques things, you’re in a position of power, and if you accept gifts from people whom you hold power over, it’s almost impossible to figure out if they’re giving those gifts of their own goodwill, or if they feel obligated to do it, because the power distorts the relationship.” (Poynter Institute, a school of journalism)
The New York Times follows the same lines, but adds this:
“An arts writer or editor who owns art of exhibition quality (and thus has a financial stake in the reputation of the artist) may inspire questions about the impartiality of his or her critical judgments or editing decisions. Thus members of the culture staff who collect valuable objects in the visual arts (paintings, photographs, sculpture, crafts, and the like) must annually submit a list of their acquisitions and sales to the associate managing editor for news administration.”
I’ve been either making my own art or purchasing the art of others for three decades. I began writing about the visual arts over a decade ago, and I can’t recall ever being approached by an artist wanting to give me a freebie in exchange for a possible review. Certainly there are desperate measures taken in the art world, but the closest I’ve come to the intrigue of it all, is going home from an opening with my pockets laden with slides from various artists who hoped I would consider their art. I’ve also noticed that I’m sometimes offered a “discount” when I buy a piece of art. I never accept discounts. If I want those, I buy art at a rummage sale. Or look in a dumpster. An acquaintance got lucky when she found a John Colt watercolor in a trash can; another located a superb Mike “Ringo” White sculpture.
There’s another side to this coin. I’m wondering how many gallery owners across the land are “gifted” with art from an artist featured in an exhibition at their gallery? Imagine what a treasure trove (providing the gallerist has a keen eye) might be amassed. It would seem to be “unethical,” but who is checking the particulars? Okay, so let’s say a gallery owner or an art critic has a birthday celebration, and artists come forth with various gifts for the special day? Is that yet another tar pit of possibilities?
The Village Voice critic collects only thrift-store paintings and ceramics and says “the rule here is nothing over $10, no clowns, and no dogs”). He doesn’t write about the art he does own, i.e. art from a few friends.