KCAC Forum Newsletter Volume 2 No 12 December 1976
ART IN THE CITY ROOM
Those ladies and gentlemen who wait alertly in the city room, for men to bite dogs, are among the last remaining supporters of the romantic theory that art is not news. With implicit, old-fashioned faith they continue to believe that something has to be added to art before it can possibly become news. It may be dirt, price, love, scandal. If it is not extraneous it will not meet the average city editor’s academic tests of news.
Every reporter knows that money, sex, and archaeology are news. And most reporters are taught that if they can’t make a story out of it, art is not news. We remember the first “art story” we covered. A young boy, too poor to buy paper and pencil, was in the habit of pocketing chalk in school and drawing in his spare hours on the sidewalk. A settlement art teacher discovered him. He studied in her art classes free. Years passed. A rich man sent him to Paris He returned and the first picture he sent to the local academy won a prize. That was art news in essence: side walk, settlement, Paris, prize. Log cabin to White House in art.
We mentioned in our story that the young man was about as far from being a genius as the Henry Street Settlement in New York is from the Gare Montaprnasse. That editorial matter was deleted to the accompaniment of great sarcasm. We were asked how we expected to write a story about a sidewalk genius if the genius weren’t a genius. We said we did not know.
If a starving artist in a garret kills a beautiful model, if the richest man in town pays a few hundred thousand dollars for an old master, if a museum buys a fake, if anything happens to reflect on art, to make it melodramatic, indecorous, debatable, the city editor wakes up with surprise to the idea that there is some are news to be covered. Curiously enough while art is not news the minute the name of art or artist is attached to any other event or condition it trebles the news value.
Take for instance that newspaper term “artists’ model” and attach it to any story about a lady, from an automobile accident to a star athlete’s bride. The city editor knows what it does. Or take the simple term artist. if a shoemaker, who robs a home, paints on Sundays, two to one the city editor will discover that the one day artist has committed the crime, not the six day shoemaker.
Writers and scientists, professors and musicians know this too. They are much better copy criminals than ordinary folks. While we think it strange that so many editors should be academic about the news, we have worked for enough of them not to have more than passing irritation about their shopworn attitude toward art and artists. This is in part forced upon them since they are permitted to remain uninformed about art. They are taught from cubhood that not many people are interested in art. Consequently they continue to repeat with reactionary obstinacy that it will be time enough to be interested in art when the crowd is interested.
People are interested in books, music, and the movies and there’s plenty of news about them. Up to a point their logic is excellent. But why does art remain not news when more than a million people a year go to exhibitions in New York City alone and when the annual art business in this country has been estimated at approximately one hundred and fifty million dollars?
It sounds illogical to complain that while art is not news, art-plus is, and that it is especially good news when the plus is scandal. What can be explained by mass jealousy. Artists are exceptional people whom the world rewards exceptionally when it rewards them at all. How many workaday men would prefer to be stars in any one of the arts? How many women dream of being prima donnas, star actresses, star movie queens? and what a consolation when one of thee symbols of personal success trips. From those who are known to everyone in electric lights to the least known artist, writer, poet, musician, the same rule maintains itself.
Why? there is something exceptional about artists, known and unknown, that stirs both admiration and enmity. And when they stumble the city editor smells news.
Why does he not know otherwise?
There is one possible answer. Although it is evident to the outside world that in America the interest in art is spreading so fast as to be almost dangerous, from the point of view of going deep and not always staying on the surface, although hundreds of thousands of dollars are being found to support new chairs of art, new schools, new departments, new scholarships, there must be few newspaper owners alive to the fact. Otherwise the simplest logic would inspire them to hire a few reporters with a thorough art education. By that we do not mean art critics for painters who, having failed at painting, are thought through that vary fact to be capable of writing well.
We are still talking of the city room and not the Sunday sections. It is our conviction that the American world today is well-packed with untouched gold mines of legitimate uncontaminated art news. The tawdry and superficial attitude toward art characteristic of the dyed in wool city editor must be revolutionized before these gold mines can produce. Out of the universities whence come many brilliant young men and women today with solid foundation for an intelligent approach to art, a few bright young reporters might be trained who would not be completely up a tree when they went out on an art story. Gradually even those dear old city editors, who consider that the more nonsensical an art story is the more sense it makes, might become educated. That would be a jolly day for art. But let’s not be too optimistic.
(Reprinted from “Magazine of Art” Vol 32 Jan 1939)